NIGERIAN JOURNALIST CHRISTINA ANYANWU RECEIVES THE UNESCO AND REPORTERS SANS FRONTIERES PRESS PRIZES

Paris, September 2 {No. 98-176} - UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor, President of Reporters sans frontières Noel Copin, and General Director of the Fondation de France Francis Charhon today presented Nigerian journalist Christina Anyanwu with the 1998 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize and the 1995 Reporters sans frontières-Fondation de France Prize. Wole Soyinka, Nobel Prize for literature laureate, participated in the ceremony.

Ms Anyanwu, publisher and editor-in-chief of the now-defunct The Sunday Magazine in Lagos, Nigeria, was unable to receive her prizes until now: she had been in prison since 1995. Mr Soyinka had accepted them previously on her behalf. Ms Anyanwu was freed this year on June 16 and was finally able to come to Paris to participate in today's ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters.

"Too many journalists throughout the world are paying with their freedom simply for carrying out their duty to inform the public. Your liberation comforts our resolve to fight for press freedom and freedom of expression," declared Mr Mayor during the award ceremony. He recalled that at the end of 1997, according to the major non-governmental organisations, at least 129 journalists were in prison in 24 countries, and 26 journalists had been murdered in the past year because of their profession. He stressed that the previous laureate of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, Chinese journalist Gao Yu, was still in prison and her medical condition now life-threatening. Mr Mayor called for her release.

"Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of any democratic society. It is a basic human right, to be enjoyed by all peoples, regardless of cultural, religious, ethnic, gender or other differences," added Mr Mayor.

In his address, Wole Soyinka thanked Ms Anyanwu for the opportunity to testify to the courage of the Nigerian press. He also hailed his countrymen present at the ceremony. “What a wonderful change to see so many Nigerian faces in the same room as me. There was a time you wouldn’t have dared. You yourselves have been liberated.” Ms Anyanwu’s freedom is another sign that Nigeria’s recent “nightmare” is over. “Let us hope we never go through this passage again,” he said. Meanwhile, he said “It is our duty to present all these experiences to the whole world.” He announced that a democracy-supporting Nigerian radio station would soon set up a “truth tribunal” for that purpose.

Ana Maria Busquets de Cano, President of the Guillermo Cano Isaza Foundation, sent a message, which was read by Claude Moisy, President of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize jury. In it she expressed her satisfaction at Ms Anyanwu's release and recalled that Guillermo Cano, Colombian journalist for whom the prize is named, died defending freedom of expression and denouncing drugs. "He was killed," she wrote, "when saying that the power of that evil would deteriorate the moral values necessary to make possible a good society."

Mr Moisy also read a message sent by Pius Njawé, journalist from Cameroon and member of the jury, presently in jail. Mr Njawé deplored, his wry message said, the “truly imperative...circumstances beyond his control” - his detention in Douala - that prevented him from attending the ceremony. He thanked all those who are actively seeking his release and exhorted them not to become discouraged.

Robert Ménard, Secretary General of Reporters sans frontières, also stressed the “lesson in courage” provided by Ms Anyanwu. “Her tenacity, her refusal to give in, are an encouragement to all journalists in detention,” he said. He too called for the liberation of Ms Gao Yu and Mr Njawé.

In her acceptance speech, Ms Anyanwu emphasised that through the World Press Freedom Prize, UNESCO had given even more impetus to those many press freedom and human rights advocacy groups which had battled for three years for her and her colleagues’ release. "God was on my side, the world was on my side, and history was on my side," she said, accepting the prize as a "salute to the entire Nigerian press. No group in Nigeria has fought harder and longer nor has any suffered more for a better society." Ms Anyanwu ended by repeating the appeal on behalf of Gao Yu and Pius Njawé.

Created in 1997 by UNESCO's Executive Board, the US $25,000 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize honours a person, organisation or institution having made a notable contribution to the defence or promotion of press freedom in the world. The Reporters sans frontières-Fondation de France Prize, worth 50,000 FF, rewards a journalist who demonstrates commitment to press freedom through his or her professional activities, opinions and attitudes.

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