2021 Press Freedom Prize Winners Unveiled | World | Latest news and insights from around the world | DW


In December 2019, a mysterious new lung disease spread in the city of Wuhan, in central China. At the time, no one imagined it would soon become a global pandemic. Chinese authorities have played down the incident as infections have escalated. On January 23, 2020, the city entered full containment – with estimates that thousands of residents were already infected.

Dangerous virus, dangerous report

In early February 2020, freelance journalist Zhang Zhan traveled from Shanghai to Wuhan to report firsthand on the dire situation. For her intrepid reporting, this year she received the Press Freedom Award from Reporters Without Borders, in the “Journalistic Courage” category.

Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan, before her arrest

His reports, broadcast via social media, highlighted overcrowded hospitals, overcrowded crematoriums and intimidated citizens throughout the city. Add to that the run-ins with the Chinese authorities, which were by no means his first. Earlier, in September 2019, the former lawyer was arrested and jailed for participating in a solidarity rally for Hong Kong. She was detained, went on a hunger strike, and was released after 65 days in prison.

But she wouldn’t be intimidated. She continued to report to Wuhan until her disappearance on May 14, 2020. It wasn’t until soon after someone found out that she had been arrested, brought back to Shanghai, and jailed without charge.

In December 2020, the 38-year-old was sentenced to four years in prison for “investigating quarrels and provoking unrest,” a common phrase authorities use to quell dissent.

She went on another hunger strike, which continues today, and is said to weigh only 40 kilograms (88 lbs). She is force-fed with a gastric tube and tied around the clock to prevent her from being removed. She remains in detention despite appeals from numerous international human rights organizations.

With this award, Reporters Without Borders hopes to draw attention to his plight. Since 1992, the prize has recognized the work of journalists and the media who have made outstanding contributions to the defense and promotion of press freedom.

Who monitors the monitors?

The “Pegasus Project” is an international consortium of more than 80 journalists from 11 countries that effectively monitors monitors. They take their name from “Pegasus” surveillance software, which is owned by Israeli technology company NSO Group, and aims to aid states and their security agencies in the fight against terrorism.

Its software has been sold to numerous governments since 2011 and, according to the Pegasus Project, is also used by at least 11 governments – both autocratic and democratic – to spy on journalists, human rights activists and public figures. opposition. These countries include Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, and Hungary.

DW reported in 2017 that the then Mexican government was using this software to monitor journalists.

Pegasus project logo on smartphone

Pegasus Project Reveals Journalists Targeted With Spyware

For uncovering the full extent of the scandal, Project Pegasus is this year’s award recipient in the “Impact” category.

Based on a leak of more than 50,000 phone numbers targeted by the spy software, journalists revealed that around 200 media professionals were being spied on around the world. The mobile numbers of French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Charles Michel and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador may also have been spied on.

Project research has shed light on the extent to which media professionals, opposition figures and government critics are under scrutiny in many countries. Reporters Without Borders and numerous media outlets around the world have since filed a complaint against these practices.

“We need a global sanctions regime that basically prohibits and sanctions the export of such technologies to authoritarian countries,” said Reporters Without Borders Germany director general Christian Mihr. “Because such surveillance technology is hostile to press freedom and, in the worst case, endangers human lives.”

A journalist caught in the middle

Critical Palestinian journalist Majdoleen Hassona is no stranger to public scrutiny and has seen her work hampered and accusations leveled against her by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

“I criticize Israel’s human rights violations and the crimes that the IDF is committing against journalists,” she told DW, “and I criticize the Palestinian Authority for corruption and restriction of liberty. opinion and expression – and this has hurt me on both sides. . “

Portrait of Majdoleen Hassona by the beach

Palestinian journalist Majdoleen Hassona wins Freedom Prize

At the end of 2015, she took a job with Turkish TV channel TRT and moved to Istanbul. Previously, she worked for various Palestinian news outlets, including 11 months as the senior editor of Dooz News, a news portal run by the DW Academy, the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the University. of Nablus.

She visited her homeland in August 2019, but was prevented from leaving the territory at an Israeli checkpoint “for security reasons”. The Israeli intelligence service imposed the ban. Since then she has been stuck in the West Bank – but she continued to do what she always did, work as a journalist.

In June 2021, well-known Palestinian critic Nizar Banat died while in Palestinian custody. His relatives say he was beaten to death by Palestinian security forces.

Nizar Banat sign during a demonstration

Mass protests followed death of Nizar Banat, a vocal critic of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

When Majdoleen Hassona covered the story and reported on the protests that followed her death, Palestinian forces also beat her.

This year, she received the Freedom of the Press Prize in the “Independence” category. In an opening statement, she said she was thrilled to receive the award.

“The Freedom Award means a lot to me,” she told DW, “because this award is not given to any journalist, but to every journalist who has been subject to restrictions on press freedom, and they deserve to exercise their work and their life freely. “

This article was originally written in German.


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