WNMC19: Potent message of defiance at Golden Pen award

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When it came to collecting the Golden Pen of Freedom posthumously awarded to her friend and colleague Jamal Khashoggi, Yemen-based freelance journalist Safa al-Ahmad started uncertainly and in tears.

But she got stronger: "Since last October, many of us who knew Jamal have been in a daze. Not able to comprehend what was done to him, why the Saudi government deemed his words so dangerous he had to be brutally murdered.

"His body disappeared. Just to silence him.

"The Saudi government hoped that Jamal's murder would scare the rest of us. Would silence us. Instead, those who were silent started to speak out. Realising that their words are powerful, even threatening to this government."

Despite the Saudi government "having so far being proved right" that they could get away with his murder, "those silenced have started to speak out.

"Jamal's death has been a catalyst, and has brought back world attention to their crimes," she said.

Today's presentation of WAN-Ifra's annual Golden Pen of Freedom press freedom award to the Saudi Arabian journalist killed last October, was itself a catalyst for discussion of the issue among journalists who faced similar threats.

Last year's Golden Pen winner and editor of Philippines-based Rappler Maria Ressa, co-founder of Indian website The Quint Ritu Kapur, and editor-in-chief of Brazil's Folha de St. Paulo Sérgio Dávila joined Safa al-Ahmad is recalling the state campaigns waged against them to a lesser or greater degree.

"Jamal was only the tip of the iceberg," she said. "Nobody knows when they are going to get arrested."

Kapur spoke of the economic pressure placed on publishers in India, and the range of laws used against them - lately even members of the public had been arrested over Facebook and WhatsApp posts - while Dávila said democracy was being tested and journalists attacked by the Brazilian president.

Chairing the session, Wolfgang Krach, editor-in-chief of Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung, added that the press freedom issue had even arrived in the European Union, with two colleagues who had worked on the Panama Papers being killed. "Not even the EU is doing anything to fight the people behind these killings," he said.

al-Ahmad spoke of the need to maintain good investigative journalism while journalists, especially women, were being targeted. "Targetting for women is very different to that for men," she said. "How do you survive, how do you do better journalism... but this is the only way forward for me."

Peter Coleman

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