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Golden Pen of Freedom awarded to Chinese journalist Li Chongqing

Golden Pen of Freedom awarded to Chinese journalist
Golden Pen : Li Jianhong holds the 2008 Golden Pen Laureate award on behalf of journalist Li Changqing at the 61st World Association of Newspaper Congress in Gothenburg, Sweden.Photo: Reuters/Bjorn Larsson Rosvall/Scanpix

A Chinese journalist who went to prison for reporting on a health threat before Chinese authorities announced it has been awarded the 2008 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN).

The award to Li Chongqing, who was released from prison in February after serving three years for reporting on an outbreak of dengue fever, marked the second consecutive year that the annual award has gone to a Chinese journalist. It was the first time since WAN created the award in 1961 that journalists from the same country have won it in consecutive years.

Li was unable to obtain a passport and could not attend the award ceremony, held June 2 in Göteborg, Sweden. His wife, Bao Dinling, was stopped at the airport in Beijing and prevented by Chinese authorities from attending.

But in remarks read by Li Jianhong, a writer who has been persecuted and arrested and forced to leave China, Li said: “I am deeply aware that this is not an honour only to me in particular, but also an award in general to all of my colleagues who are bravely devoting themselves to freedom of expression, especially those in China.”

“The facts that Chinese journalists have gotten the Golden Pen of Freedom Award two years in succession, and that China has become the world’s largest jailer of the journalists, have shown that the current situation of free expression in China is of growing concern to the whole world,” he said. “China is a land that needs to be travelled with the voices of conscience and a nation that needs to be saved by the truth.”

The award was presented by George Brock, President of the World Editors Forum (WEF), during the opening ceremonies of the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum, the annual global meetings of the world’s press.

“The award was made on the individual merits of Li’s case. He went to jail for exposing a serious outbreak of a dangerous disease before the authorities had told the public about it. The Golden Pen of Freedom recognises Li’s brave conduct in revealing significant facts in the public interest,” Brock said.

“But Li’s case also belongs in a context. China has the dubious distinction of being the world’s biggest jailer of journalists,” he said. “Despite the promises it made in its successful Olympic bid to improve conditions for journalists, China has continued its repressive policies, cynically believing that neither the Olympic movement nor the international community expects them to honour their promises of reform.”

At least 30 journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents remain in Chinese prisons.

Li, who was freed from prison on February 2, was a reporter and deputy news director of the Fuzhou Daily in Fuzhou City, Fujian Province. He was sentenced to prison in January 2006, for "fabricating and spreading false information", after being detained without charges for nearly a year. The charges stem from a report on the 2004 outbreak of dengue fever in Fuzhou that was posted on Boxun News Network, a Chinese-language website based in the United States.

Due to censorship and restrictions imposed by the Communist Party Propaganda Department on sensitive social issues, no reports of the outbreak in Fuzhou of dengue, a viral, mosquito-borne disease, had been reported in the Chinese press. Nor had health officials officially announced the outbreak.

“In most countries, he would be celebrated and honoured for this work,” said Brock. “In China, disclosing such facts is an imprisonable offence.”

Li said being a journalist in China “is full of risks. To be a good journalist, one does not only need wisdom but needs moral courage even more.”

The ceremony was attended by Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf, ambassadors and other dignitaries. More than 1,500 newspaper publishers, chief editors and other senior newspaper executives are attending the Congress, Forum and Info Expo 2008, which continue through Wednesday.

Date posted: June 3, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 633