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CPJ to Honor Amal Clooney With Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award

Attorney Amal Clooney participates in a panel discussion on media freedom at United Nations headquarters Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Monday Clooney will be recognized for ongoing contributions to press freedom at an event where reporters from Bangladesh, Iran, Nigeria, and Russia will be recognized for reporting despite arrests or threats of reprisal.

“Like brave and committed journalists everywhere, CPJ’s honorees set out to report the news without fear or favor for the benefit of their communities, their country, and the world," CPJ executive director Joel Simon said in a prepared statement.

“They understood that they would confront powerful forces, enemies of the truth, who would try to stop them from doing their work," he added. "What they did not foresee was COVID-19. The global pandemic has not only made their jobs more difficult and dangerous; it has fueled a ferocious press freedom crackdown as autocratic leaders around the world suppress unwelcome news under the guise of protecting public health.”

Clooney has spent years doing pro-bono representation for journalists faced with legal threats over their work, including Manila-based journalist Maria Ressa and Myanmar-based Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

Ressa, a Princeton-educated Filipino American and chief executive of popular Philippines media outlet Rappler, is currently free on bail pending appeal of a June 15 cyber-libel conviction that many see as back-handed retaliation for a string of articles critical of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Critics say the verdict, stemming from charges typically reserved for pornographers and stalkers, dovetails with Duterte's anti-fake news laws and wider press restrictions related to the country's coronavirus lockdown.

Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo walked free from a Myanmar prison in May 2019 after 500 days behind bars for violating the country’s Official Secrets Act. Clooney was on the defense team handling their case, which continues to raise questions about Myanmar’s progress towards democracy.

Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo react in a vehicle after being freed from Insein prison after receiving a presidential pardon in Yangon, Myanmar, May 7, 2019.

CPJ says the 2020 honorees include renowned Bangladesh photojournalist Shahidul Alam, who was beaten during his 102-day jail term for posting footage of Dhaka students protests to social media in 2018; Iranian freelance reporter Mohammad Mosaed, who has been repeatedly arrested for publishing investigations on corruption, embezzlement, labor issues, and anti-government protests; Nigeria's Dapo Olorunyomi, co-founder, CEO and publisher of Premium Times, who has spent portions of his career in police detention or in hiding, and Russia's Svetlana Prokopyeva, a regional correspondent for Radio Svoboda, who is facing a six-year prison term and fines for “justifying terrorism” after reporting on the 2018 suicide bombing by a Russian teenager of an FSB security service office in the northwestern city of Arkhangelsk.

Radio Svoboda is a multiplatform alternative to Russian state-controlled media, providing audiences in the Russian Federation with informed and accurate news, analysis, and opinion. It is run by the Russian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, one of VOA's sister networks.

The honorees will receive their awards at CPJ’s annual benefit gala on Nov. 19, where Clooney will be presented with the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award for her extraordinary and sustained commitment to press freedom.

“Journalists in trouble have no better champion than Amal Clooney," said CPJ board chairperson Kathleen Carroll in a prepared statement. "A talented barrister, gifted negotiator, and powerful speaker, Clooney works tirelessly to free journalists unjustly targeted by despotic leaders using increasingly punitive laws to stifle reporting.”

The Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch initiative monitors trials of journalists worldwide and provides free legal representation for those in need.

Chaired by Open Society Foundations President Patrick Gaspard and hosted by veteran NBC broadcast journalist Lester Holt, this year's gala will be virtual due to COVID-19 safety restrictions.

The Gwen Ifill Award, is named for the groundbreaking Black journalist who covered the White House, Congress and national campaigns during three decades for The Washington Post, The New York Times, NBC and, most visibly at PBS where she was the moderator and managing editor of the public affairs program “Washington Week” and the co-anchor and co-managing editor, with Judy Woodruff, of the nightly “NewsHour.” Ifill died of uterine cancer in 2016.

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