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Tanzania’s Maxence Melo to get CPJ press freedom award

Tanzania’s Maxence Melo is among six journalists who will receive the 2019 International Press Freedom Awards from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Mr Melo will be honoured by the global outfit for championing online freedom of expression in Tanzania through the online breaking news and discussions site that he founded.

The co-founder and managing director of Jamii Forums has been charged under the country’s restrictive Cybercrimes Act. He appeared in court 81 times in 2017.

Mr Melo will be awarded during CPJ’s annual awards and benefit dinner which will be held at the Grand Hyatt New York in New York City on November 21. The ceremony will be chaired by Laurene Powell Jobs and Peter Lattman of the Emerson Collective.

Risks

CPJ’s Executive Director Joel Simon said the winners represent “the very best of journalism; people who have put their lives and liberty on the line to bring us the news”.

“The sad reality is that around the world, independent journalism is threatened by populist authoritarians who disdain and disparage the work of the independent press.

This is true in the countries represented by our honorees and many others,” Mr Simon in a statement released Tuesday.

The award comes amid the erosion of press freedom in democracies around the globe, with journalists facing online harassment, legal and physical threats, and imprisonment in their pursuit of the news.

Tanzania remains a country of deep concern for the CPJ, where conditions for journalists and the media have drastically deteriorated under President John Magufuli.

The CPJ noted that restrictive legislation has been used to limit and retaliate against criticism of the government, media outlets have been suspended for not toeing the official government narrative; and at least one journalist, freelancer Azory Gwanda, has been missing since November 2017.

Just last week, the Tanzanian Minister of Foreign Affairs told the BBCthat Azory was dead, but later changed the position.

Mr Simon said, “The CPJ has repeatedly called for the government to publicly account for Azory’s whereabouts. Several of our sources told us he was last seen in the company for four men believed to be security agents.

“The constant legal intimidation and attacks against Maxence and his outlet showcase just how far things have fallen in Tanzania in the area of press freedom and free expression.”

Other winners

Mr Melo will be awarded alongside Neha Dixit from India, Patricia Campos Mello from Brazil, Nicaragua’s Lucia Pineda and Miguel Mora, and Zaffar Abbas from Pakistan.

Ms Dixit, a freelance investigative journalist who covers human rights, has faced legal and physical threats, as well as online harassment, for reporting on alleged wrongdoing by right-wing nationalist groups and police.

Ms Campos, a reporter and columnist at Brazil’s daily Folha de S. Paulo, was attacked online during the presidential election campaign in 2018 in response to her coverage of supporters of then presidential-candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who allegedly sponsored bulk messaging in WhatsApp.

Mr Pineda and Mr Mora, news director and founder and editor respectively of Nicaraguan broadcaster 100% Noticias, were imprisoned in December 2018 in relation to their coverage of political unrest.

They were freed on June 11 after six months behind bars, under surveillance and in isolation most of the time.

Special award

Mr Abbas, editor of Pakistan’s daily newspaper Dawn, will be honoured with the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award that recognises extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom.

The editor, who has decades of experience as a reporter, has led Dawn since 2010. Under his leadership, Dawn and its reporters have frequently come under government pressure.

“Zaffar Abbas is the embodiment of journalistic courage, which is why the board is so pleased to honour him with the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award,” said Kathleen Carroll, chair of the CPJ board.

“Every day he fights to deliver facts toDawn’s readers in the face of pressure, obstacles and blockades from the institutions in Pakistan that would much prefer to go about their business without scrutiny from the press or the public.”

By The Eastafrican 

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