Freedom of Speech Award of Deutsche Welle
Deutsche Welle presented this year's “Freedom of Speech Award” to 17 journalists from 14 different countries. The prize of the German foreign broadcaster, which has so far always gone to one person or initiative, is being awarded to several people at the same time for the first time since its introduction in 2015.
As the DW announced, the broadcaster honors with this award "fact-checkers in the fight against the infodemic in times of Covid-19". DW Director Peter Limbourg said that some colleagues were “forcibly prevented from doing their jobs” in these difficult times, and continued: “Deutsche Welle demands that all journalists worldwide who have been arrested for reporting on the Corona crisis be released immediately.”
Among the 17 laureates from 14 countries - representing all journalists worldwide who have disappeared, been arrested or threatened due to their reporting on the pandemic - are five from East and Southeast Europe.
The journalist Nurcan Baysal and her colleague Ismet Cigit from Turkey, ranked 154th in the world ranking of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, were honored with the award. Baysal, an experienced journalist of Kurdish origin, has been arrested several times in the past for making critical news on military operations by Turkish armed forces in southeast Turkey and Syria. Most recently, she was interrogated at the end of March due to her reporting on the lack of action by the Turkish state in the fight against the Corona crisis. Ismet Cigit, on the other hand, is a local journalist from the Kocaeli province, west of Istanbul. A message that two people had died of corona in a nearby village brought the police to his door. With an arrest warrant, Cigit was arrested and taken away in the middle of the night. After being released under conditions, he announced that he would no longer address news about Covid-19 to protect his informants.
From Russia, the journalist Jelena Milaschina was awarded the prize, who had come under the eye of the local ruler Ramzan Kadyrov due to her critical report on the handling of the Chechen republic with Covid-19. Milaschina had previously been beaten up in a hotel room in Grozny by unknown persons after reporting about the LGBTI persecution in the southern Russian republic. Russia is ranked 149th on the world press freedom list.
Belarusian journalist Sergei Sazuk spent ten days in prison after being released under conditions. Sazuk is officially accused of accepting a bribe - this could result in up to ten years in prison. Critics assume that the allegation is staged and that it is actually an article that Sazuk published three days before his arrest. In it he criticized the Belarusian president's handling of the corona crisis. He also doubted the accuracy of the government information on Covid-19 infections in his country.
According to President Lukashenko, there are no Corona cases in his country, people should rather “drink vodka, drive a tractor and do sports” to protect themselves. When dealing with journalists who still report on the pandemic, Lukashenko had ordered that “one has to take care of them”. Belarus ranks 153rd overall in the World Press Freedom Index.
With Ana Lanic, the prize also goes to Serbia, which fell three places further down to 93rd place compared to the previous year. Lanic was arrested for two days after reporting missing medical equipment in a hospital in the city of Novi Sad.
The other award winners come from Slovenia, Venezuela, Iran, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Jordan, India, Cambodia, the Philippines and China.
This year's laureate is the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet. In a video message, she said: “Now more than ever, we need a free flow of information and people's access to that information. Governments need information to make precise decisions that match realities on the ground. The general public needs complete and accurate information about the pandemic and must be included in the decisions that are made on our behalf. It was shocking when journalists were attacked, threatened, or arrested for reporting on the pandemic.”
The Freedom of Speech Award usually takes place at the Global Media Forum in Bonn, which had to be canceled this year due to the corona pandemic. Former winners include Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, on whose behalf the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom also awards a prize to courageous journalists.