The US based International Women’s Media Foundation has honoured three outstanding women journalists for their courage in the course of their journalistic work. Established in 1990 IWMF is a vibrant global network dedicated to strengthening the role of women in the news media worldwide as a means to further freedom of the press. The IWMF advocates for women journalists worldwide and calls attention to their bravery. Each year, the IWMF highlights the courage required to report the news in many parts of the world with its Courage in Journalism Awards, the only international awards that recognize the bravery of women journalists.
This year’s winners were awarded at a ceremony held on 24 October in New York. The three winners are Reeyot Alemu of Ethiopia, Asmaa al Ghoul of Palestine and Khadija Ismayilova of Azerbaijan.
Reeyot Alemu, 31, worked as a columnist for independent Ethiopian newspaper Feteh until her arrest in June 2011. She was held without charge until September of that year, when she was accused of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts and participation in a terrorist organization. The Ethiopian government presented articles Alemu wrote criticizing its actions as evidence at her trial, as well as telephone conversations she had regarding strictly peaceful protests. Based on these materials alone, a judge sentenced Alemu to 14 years in prison. An appeals court subsequently reduced the 14-year prison sentence to five years and dropped most of the terrorism charges against her. Prior to these events, Alemu was one of her country’s only female reporters who wrote critically about the political climate in Ethiopia, including analysis of government figures. Now, Alemu has fallen ill in prison. Her associates suffer harassment because of their connections with her. Despite this, Alemu has rejected offers of clemency in return for information about her colleagues. She refused and was sent to solitary confinement for 13 days as punishment for her failure to cooperate. She is currently being kept at Kality prison, which is known for its filthy conditions. Recently, she has fallen ill; in April of this year she underwent surgery at nearby hospital to remove a tumor from her breast, after which she was returned to jail with no recovery time.
Asmaa al-Ghoul, 30, is a blogger and freelance writer working in Gaza. Her stories analyze social and political life in the Middle East, focusing on the ongoing divisions among Palestinians and abuses of civil rights by both internal and external forces in Gaza. In 2007, al-Ghoul wrote an article in the form of an open letter to her uncle, a Hamas commander, questioning the methods of certain entities claiming to seek peace for Palestine. The article resulted in al-Ghoul’s uncle threatening to kill her. This is not uncommon: al-Ghoul regularly receives death threats against her own life and that of her young son. She has been beaten by Hamas security forces while covering popular protests and went through a period of sleeping in her office for fear of being killed on her way home.
Khadija Ismayilova, 35, is a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani service. She investigates corruption and power abuse among her country’s elite. In May of 2012, Ismayilova became the target of a massive smear campaign threatening to defame her and put her life at risk unless she stopped reporting. This included an anonymous letter with photos from surveillance cameras planted in Ismayilova’s apartment, depicting her in an intimate situation with her boyfriend. It was made clear that she would stop her reporting, or risk having the photos made public. In the largely Muslim country of Azerbaijan, “honor killings” still occur. This is not the first time Ismayilova has been the subject of attempts to silence her. She is the victim of regular slander campaigns in pro-government media.