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Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press 2018

The European Union rewards three journalists from Algeria, Egypt and Iraq, winners of the 2018 edition

On the occasion of the 13th anniversary of Samir Kassir’s assassination, the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon organised on 31 May the annual ceremony for the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press. The ceremony was held in collaboration with the Samir Kassir Foundation.

The winners of the 2018 edition are:

– Opinion piece category: Miloud Yabrir from Algeria, born in 1984, who is a physician but also a journalist specialised in cultural affairs. His piece entitled “A Seat in the Dark” was published in The New Arab on 22 February 2018 and describes the intricacies of the Algerian political system through the metaphor of a cinema hall where the first Algerian constitution was written and where the developments of the country’s political movie are still unfolding.

– Investigative article category: Asmaa Shalaby from Egypt, born in 1990, a journalist at Youm7 newspaper specialised in security affairs. Her report entitled “Women of Fayoum: Tragedies of Early marriage, Rape and Harassments” was published in Youm7 on 15 May 2017. It describes the ordeal of Egyptian women in one of the country’s poorest districts, where they are subjected to the worst forms of sexual and professional abuse, slavery and female genital mutilation.

– Audiovisual news report category: Asaad Zalzali from Iraq, born in 1984, general manager of Maraya Media news agency. His seven-minute news report entitled “ISIS Children” was aired on Deutsche Welle Arabic on 7 December 2017. It sheds light on the fate of children of ISIS members, who are currently detained in camps without any form of care and deprived of all their rights.

Organised every year since 2006, the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press honours the memory of the Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir who was assassinated on 2 June 2005 in Beirut. The award is funded by the European Union and rewards journalists who have distinguished themselves through the quality of their work and their commitment to human rights and democracy. The competition is open to journalists from the countries of North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf. This year, the 193 applications that were received bring the total of participants since the creation of the award to nearly 2,100. The prize awarded in each of the three categories is of €10,000.

EU Ambassador Christina Lassen underlined that freedom of the press is not only a fundamental human right. “We believe that for any society to flourish, we need professional, talented and brave journalists like you to educate, raise awareness and blow the whistle, whenever needed”, she said. “There is a growing hostility towards journalists, in some places

even openly encouraged by political leaders who no longer see the media as a cornerstone of democracy, but rather as an adversary and a threat”, she added.

“Hope always comes out of darkness. One only needs to read the articles and watch the audiovisual news reports of the candidates to understand that the wall of fear has collapsed and that it is impossible to rebuild it. Even if they try hard, their efforts will be worthless”, Gisèle Khoury, President of the Samir Kassir Foundation, said in her speech. “Underestimating the intelligence of people and forcing them to choose between stability and freedom will no longer be tolerated and is no longer convincing. For a long time, we believed that the sound of cannons was louder than any voice. But this era is over now. Only freedom ensures the rule of law”, she added.

As in previous years, an independent jury selected the winners. It comprised seven media professionals from Europe and the Middle East: Adnan Hussein (Iraq), Executive Chief Editor of Al-Mada newspaper; Khairallah Khairallah (Lebanon), columnist and political analyst; Rami Khouri (Jordan), columnist and professor at the American University of Beirut; Leila Shahid (Palestine), former General Delegate of Palestine at the European Union; Albana Shala (the Netherlands), Chair of the International Programme for the Development of Communication at UNESCO; Benoît Thieulin (France), Dean of the School of Management and Innovation at Sciences Po Paris; and Aidan White (United Kingdom), President of the Ethical Journalism Network.

The ceremony was hosted by journalist Nicole Hajal, a TV and radio host.

All information about the 2018 edition of the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press, the winning articles and audiovisual report, as well as biographies, articles and reports of all previous winners since 2006, are available on the website www.samirkassiraward.org.

Speech by the Ambassador of the European Union Christina Lassen

Your Excellency Minister Riachi, representing the President of the Republic,
Your Excellency Minister Jarrah, representing the Prime Minister,
Excellencies,
Dear finalists, friends, dear Giselle,

The Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press was created by the European Union to honour the name and life of Samir Kassir, as a symbol of the fight for freedom of expression.

For 13 years, we have gathered on this occasion to remind ourselves that his battle for free speech and a free press is as necessary as ever.

We are honoured to dedicate this award to journalists who are courageously working across the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf, sometimes even putting their lives at risk. Many of you are here with us today, breaking the wall of fear, as Gisele said. We also want to pay tribute to all those individuals and civil society groups in this region who work every day, often under very harsh conditions, to voice issues of concerns in our societies.

This year, we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The impact of this crucial document over the years cannot be underestimated. And, as pointed out in Article 19 of the Declaration: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

Freedom of the press is closely connected to this right and is the foundation of any democracy.

This is why the freedom of the press and the safety of journalists and other media actors is a priority for the European Union in our work.

In Lebanon, in the region and globally.

For years, we have supported various local and regional programmes to promote professional journalism and build the capacities of independent media. Because freedom of the press is not only a fundamental human right. We believe that for any society to flourish, we need professional, talented and brave journalists like you here tonight, to educate, raise awareness and blow the whistle, whenever needed. Whether you are expressing yourselves through photos, videos or words, and whether you choose to publish your work online or offline.

Technological innovations have created new opportunities. In a way, everyone can now be his or her own editor or media outlet. But it has also brought new challenges. Fake news can easily be spread. Moreover, it is important to remember that the right to freedom of opinion and expression must also be protected online; this also includes the protection of personal data. One of the major achievements of the European Union this year was the launch last week of a new Regulation, which strengthens the rules to protect the privacy and data of web users and companies, an important element in our world today.

Because it is a constant battle to protect and promote free speech and a free press. And we need to wage it together. This year’s Press Freedom Report, published by Reporters without Borders, revealed a growing hostility towards journalists, in some places even openly encouraged by political leaders who no longer see the media as a cornerstone of democracy, but rather as an adversary and a threat.

As in previous years, the biggest decline in press freedom unfortunately took place in this region. The Middle East and North Africa was yet again identified as the world’s most difficult and dangerous region for journalists. We continue to see journalists, activists and social media users being threatened and subjected to violence. Censorship, online surveillance and terrorism charges are still being used to limit freedom of speech.

Historically, Lebanon has had a special place in the region attracting artists, filmmakers and journalists who could not speak out in their own countries. This is also why there is for us only one logical place to host this award – here in Beirut. But sadly, in the past few years we have observed cases of journalists being prosecuted for their work; journalists being harassed for trying to report about the stories of public interest; and other restrictions on freedom of speech, such as the cancellation of Beirut Pride two weeks ago.

These are worrying signals. But there is much hope. In this region as elsewhere, regardless of the attempts by many countries to curtail freedom of expression, journalists are increasingly finding new paths to express themselves, on social media, news websites and blogs.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I am proud to announce that we have received this year a total of 193 submissions from 12 countries in the region. With 89 submissions, Egypt had the largest number of participants, followed by Syria (28), Lebanon (16) and Iraq (14). Human rights, through different topics, were widely covered this year. And interestingly, many of you focused on women’s rights and gender based violence.

Dear finalists,
Your participation in this award proves that the region has dedicated, passionate and talented professionals who will raise their voices against human rights violations, corruption and environmental hazards, even in times when authorities are trying to restrict freedom of expression. And most importantly, it proves a commitment to your societies and to your fellow citizens. I would like to congratulate you all once again for having made it this far – being among the finalists already proves the excellence of your work.

I would like to thank the members of the jury, who have spent hours reviewing these submissions. And last but not least, the team and president of the Samir Kassir Foundation, who made the most of a tragic situation to promote and defend free thought, free speech and free press.

Thank you

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