RSF honours female Asian journalists for courage under fire

Robin MILLARD
Some 63 journalists, 11 citizen journalists and four media assistants have been killed so far in 2018, including Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, according to RSF

Two Asian women won Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Awards on Thursday for their bravery in holding governments to account in the face of persistent threats.

Indian freelance reporter Swati Chaturvedi and Filipina social media campaigner Inday Espina-Varona were honoured at the RSF annual awards, being staged in London for the first time.

Maltese journalist Matthew Caruana Galizia, who has carried on the work of his mother Daphne, murdered for exposing corruption on the Mediterranean island, was also honoured at the ceremony at the Getty Images Gallery.

Established in 1985 to defend and promote press freedom, Paris-based RSF has been presenting its yearly awards since 1992.

Previous winners include the late Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet.

Chaturvedi won the Prize for Courage, awarded for journalism in a hostile environment.

She has faced online harassment campaigns after exposing what she calls a "troll army" operating for the governing Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"I get a dozen death threats every day and around 15 to 20 rape threats," she told AFP.

"The whole idea of a democracy is that you are allowed to have a dissenting view.

"Unfortunately, the way politics has panned out across the world, journalists are really under threat.

"It is sad that you are called courageous just for doing your job."

- Sexist attacks -

Veteran journalist Espina-Varona founded a social media women's rights campaign in response to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's comments on women.

"After a particularly hard-hitting column, I find 50 to 80 private messages calling me a liar, an ugly woman, and mostly these are sexist attacks," she told AFP.

"The slurs don't really bother me but the threats that say 'we know where you live, we'll see if you are as brave as you think' -- that bothers me because it also happens to other journalists."

She won the Prize for Independence, awarded to reporters for resisting pressure in carrying out their work.

"Independence is very important for citizen journalism. I teach young people to be critical minded and I hope this award will inspire them," she said.

Some 63 journalists, 11 citizen journalists and four media assistants have been killed so far in 2018, RSF said, including Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

A total of 55 journalists were killed in the whole of 2017.

Caruana Galizia won the Prize for Impact, awarded for work that has led to an increase in awareness of journalistic freedom.

His mother, Malta's pioneering anti-corruption blogger, was assassinated in a car bomb attack in October 2017.

- 'Fight for the right thing' -

"It's a recognition that what we're fighting for is right," he said of the award.

"It's about continuing to fight for the right thing: justice for my mother and for her stories. Everything else will follow.

"Hope is a word for people who have already given up."

He said Malta could and should become a functional European Union democracy that did not have to rely on investigative journalism as the last remaining line of defence.

However, "its toxicity will spread" throughout the EU if partners including Britain and France did not join the fight.

Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder remains unresolved.

Ninety percent of violent crimes against journalists go unpunished, said RSF.

Afghanistan is currently the world's deadliest country for journalists, with 14 killed this year.

"The alarming number of deaths is a reminder of the urgent need to provide journalists with more protection," said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

Some 168 journalists, 150 citizen journalists and 19 media assistants are in jail, the organisation said.

RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index ranks the worst five countries for journalists as China, Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea, which came last at 180th.