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International Press Freedom Award for former Guantanamo detainee Sami al-Haj

International Press Freedom Award for former Guantanamo detainee Sami al-Haj
Voice of freedom: A school girl carries a portrait of Sudanese TV journalist Sami al-Haj, held since 2001 at the the US-run prison in Guantanmo Bay, during a demonstration outside the US embassy in Khartoum on February 28, 2008. Haj, who worked for the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera satellite news channel, was arrested by the Pakistani army on the Afghan border in December 2001 and was one of the hundreds of detainees still being held without charge at the infamous prison in Cuba. Arabic writing above Haj's portrait reads: "Freedom for papa Sami." Photo: Agence France-Presse (AFP)

Sami al-Haj of Sudan and Shakeman Mugari of Zimbabwe have been awarded the 2008 International Press Freedom Awards for extraordinary courage and overcoming tremendous odds to report the news. The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), which gives away these awards, has also decided to acknowledge Jim Poling of Canada with the Vox Libera Award for his long-standing commitment to freedom of the press.

"This year we honour three journalists who have never compromised their principles and journalistic integrity," said Carol Off, Chair of the CJFE Awards committee. "Our honourees embody the true essence of journalism and anti censorship — their efforts send a strong message that the truth cannot be silenced."

The 11th annual International Press Freedom Awards will be given out at a gala ceremony at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto on Monday, December 8, 2008. This year's event will also shine a spotlight on the extraordinary challenges faced by photojournalists and videographers whose images drive home the horrors of war and repression.

The International Press Freedom Awards recognise the strength and bravery of foreign journalists who overcome obstacles in order to deliver news. So far, in 2008, an estimated 76 media workers and journalists were killed around the world and another 58 were kidnapped or imprisoned. In the face of judicial, physical or life-endangering threats these journalists worked
tirelessly so that news media remain free.

CJFE's Vox Libera award is an annual award granted to a Canadian who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the principles of free expression and who has had made an important and sustained contribution at home or abroad to those same principles.

Al-Jazeera reporter Sami al-Haj was released from Guantànamo Bay on May 1, 2008 where he was held for six years. Al-Haj was never formally charged or brought to trial but he was ordered to become an informant against Al-Jazeera in exchange for a US passport and release from Guantànamo Bay. Al-Haj refused and instead launched a yearlong hunger strike. The US finally released him to Sudan where he is now Al-Jazeera's news producer for liberties and human rights affairs.

A reporter for the Zimbabwe Independent and a stringer for Candian daily Globe and Mail, Shakeman Mugari has openly criticised the Zimbabwe government for abuse of power and failure to improve conditions for the over 80 per cent of Zimbabweans living in poverty. Mugari continues to report on a multitude of human rights abuses plaguing the country. In a report published in the Washington Post in April 2008, he exposed a junta at work in Zimbabwe, cracking down on opposition parties in order to assist Robert Mugabe in maintaining control of the country.

As Managing Editor, News of the Hamilton Spectator, Jim Poling created two year-long internships for foreign-trained journalists living in Canada. The recipients are integrated into the newsroom, gaining the training and industry insight it takes to work in the Canadian media community. Poling also helped found the Canadian Journalism for Internationally Trained Writers programme at Sheridan College and sits as chair of the Advisory Committee.

CJFE is an association of more than 300 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and
around the world. CJFE has a history of work on cases pertaining to media law and freedom of expression.

Date posted: October 24, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 704