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Awards for free speech defenders

BBC | March 15, 2007

Five "defenders of free speech", including a blind Chinese lawyer and a jailed Egyptian blogger, have been honoured at a London awards ceremony.
The annual Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards salute people who have contributed to the defence of freedom of expression.

They are given to those who use film, the law, books, journalism, campaigning or whistleblowing to achieve this.

The awards' organisers said each winner was symbolic of under-reported stories.

The whistleblower award went to Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer in the Shandong province of China.

Known as the "barefoot lawyer", he is a blind activist who publicised reports of forced abortions, as late as eight months pregnant, and sterilisations in the city of Linyi to enforce China's one-child policy.

Mr Chen was sentenced in August 2006 to over four years in prison for property damage and organising a crowd to disturb traffic.

The 2007 award for journalism went to 22-year old blogger Abdel Kareem Soliman, who wrote under the name Kareem Amer.

He was recently sentenced to four years in prison after using his web log to criticise the country's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university, and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator.

The literature award went to assassinated Lebanese journalist Samir Qasir, well known for his criticism of the former pro-Syrian Lebanese authorities, for his book Being Arab.

Qasir died in a Beirut car bomb attack in 2005.

Aids activist

The campaigning award went to Siphiwe Hlophe, from Swaziland, for her work with women who have HIV/Aids.

Having suffered discrimination first hand when she was diagnosed with HIV, Ms Hlophe co-founded an organisation called Swazis for Positive Living which aims to fight gender discrimination related to HIV/Aids and help other victims.

This year's film award went to Israeli director Yoav Shamir for his film Five Days, a documentary about the Israeli Defence Force and the planned evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza.

Index on Censorship chief Henderson Mullin said the five winners were all symbolic of the under-reported world that Index on Censorship tries to highlight.

"They are all stories that are under-reported and that we would like to bring to mainstream attention," he told AFP.

"The people that we end up choosing tend to be symbolic of what we do and symbolic of the under-reported stories."

The awards were hosted in London by former BBC newsreader Anna Ford.




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