The 2021 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Awards, announced today, went to Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan in the courage category, Palestinian journalist Majdoleen Hassona in the independence category and Project Pegasus in the impact category.
The RSF Press Freedom Awards recognize journalists or media outlets each year who have made a notable contribution to the defense or promotion of press freedom around the world. This is the 29th year that they have been awarded.
The 2021 awards were given out in three categories: Journalistic Courage, Impact and Independence. Six journalists and six media outlets or journalists’ organizations from a total of 11 countries were nominated.
The 2021 Courage Awardwhich aims to support and salute journalists, media or NGOs who have shown courage in the practice, defense or promotion of journalism, was awarded to the Chinese journalist Zhang Zhang.
Despite constant threats, the lawyer-turned-journalist covered the Covid-19 outbreak in the city of Wuhan in February 2020, broadcasting live video reports on social media showing the city’s streets and hospitals, as well as the families of the sick. His reporting from the heart of the initial epicenter of the pandemic was one of the main sources of independent information on the health situation in Wuhan at the time. After being arrested in May 2020 and held incommunicado for several months without any official reason being provided, Zhang Zhan was sentenced on December 28, 2020 to four years in prison for “causing quarrels and causing trouble”. To protest against this injustice and the mistreatment she suffered, she went on a hunger strike which led to her being chained and force-fed. His friends and family now fear for his life and his health has deteriorated significantly in recent weeks.
The 2021 Impact Prizewhich recognizes journalists, media outlets or NGOs that have contributed to marked improvements in journalistic freedom, independence and pluralism, or increased awareness of these issues, was awarded to the Project Pegasus.
The Pegasus project is an investigation carried out by an international consortium of more than 80 journalists from 17 media* in 11 different countries, coordinated by the NGO Forbidden Stories with the technical support of experts from Amnesty International’s Security Lab. Based on a leak of more than 50,000 phone numbers targeted by Pegasus, spyware made by the Israeli company NSO Group, Project Pegasus revealed that nearly 200 journalists were targeted for spying by 11 governments – both autocratic and democratic – which had acquired licenses to use Pégase. This investigation raised awareness of the extent of the surveillance to which journalists are exposed and led many media and RSF to file a complaint and demand a moratorium on the sale of surveillance technologies.
*(Aristegui Noticias, Daraj, Die Zeit, Direkt 36, Knack, Forbidden Stories, Haaretz, Le Monde, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Proceso, PBS Frontline, Radio France, Le Soir, Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Guardian , The Washington Post and The Wire)
The Independence Prize 2021which rewards journalists, media outlets or NGOs who have resisted financial, political, economic or religious pressure in a notable way, was awarded to the Palestinian journalist Majdoleen Hassona.
Before joining the Turkish TV channel TR and settling in Istanbul, this Palestinian journalist has often been harassed and prosecuted by Israeli and Palestinian authorities for her critical reporting. During a return visit to the West Bank in August 2019 with her fiancé (also TR Turkey-based journalist), she was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint and told she was subject to a travel ban issued by Israeli intelligence “for security reasons”. . She has been stuck in the West Bank ever since but decided to resume reporting there and covered the June 2021 anti-government protests following the death of activist Nizar Banat.
“For having defied censorship and alerted the world to the reality of the emerging pandemic, the winner of the category ‘courage’ is today in prison and her state of health is extremely worrying”, declared the secretary general of RSF, Christopher Deloire. “For having demonstrated critical thinking and perseverance, the winner of the ‘Independence’ category has not been able to leave the territory under Israeli control for the past two years. For exposing the extent of surveillance that journalists can be subjected to, some of the journalists who won the “impact” category are now being prosecuted by governments. This, unfortunately, sums up the state of journalism today. The winners of the RSF Prize embody the noblest journalistic qualities and also pay the highest price for them. They not only deserve our admiration but also our support.
Chaired by RSF President Pierre Haski, the jury for the 29th RSF Press Freedom Awards was made up of eminent journalists and defenders of freedom of expression from around the world: Rana Ayyub, Indian journalist and Washington Post opinion columnist; Raphaëlle Bacqué, great French reporter for The world; Mazen Darwish, Syrian lawyer and President of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression; Zaina Erhaim, Syrian journalist and communications consultant; Erick Kabendera, investigative journalist from Tanzania; Hamid Mir, Pakistani editor, columnist and writer; Frederik Obermaier, German investigative journalist in Munich Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper; and Mikhail Zygar, Russian journalist and founding editor of DojdRussia’s only independent television news channel.
Previous winners of this prestigious award, established in 1992, include Russian journalist Elena Milashina (2020 Courage Award), Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (Netizen category award in 2014) and Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo (Award of the freedom of the press prize of the Defender in 2004).