On December 5 Canadian Journalists for Free Expression will honour Mae Azango of Liberia, Rami Jarrah of Syria, Canadian media lawyer Dan Henry, and Enquête, Radio-Canada's investigative television program, with awards for their courageous reporting and commitment to freedom of expression, often in the face of threats.
 

On December 5, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) will honour Mae Azango of Liberia, Rami Jarrah of Syria, Canadian media lawyer Dan Henry, and Enquête, Radio-Canada's investigative television program, with awards for their courageous reporting and commitment to freedom of expression, often in the face of threats.

The International Press Freedom Awards will be presented to Mae Azango of Liberia and Rami Jarrah of Syria for their brave and tireless work reporting stories of critical importance to their communities and the world. CJFE selected the winners for their courageous efforts to report atrocities and abusive practices despite threats to their personal safety – threats that forced both to flee their homes.

Mae Azango is a Liberian reporter at daily newspaper and website FrontPage Africa, and is a senior member of New Narratives—Africans Reporting Africa, a not-for-profit media development initiative. Her career as a journalist has focused on coverage of issues widely considered taboo in Liberian communities, such as female genital cutting, child rape, the frequency of teenage motherhood and police brutality. Her story on the practice of female genital cutting published in March 2012 drew death threats that forced Azango and her daughter into hiding. Azango continued to publish stories for FrontPage Africa and Foreign Policy magazine during this period.

Following pressure from global advocacy groups that compelled the government to make its first public commitment to ending female genital cutting, Azango returned home. While she continues to face aggression and backlash from community members for her reportage, Azango remains committed to exposing hardships faced by women and girls in Liberia.

Rami Jarrah is a Cyprus-born, U.K.-raised Syrian citizen journalist who often operates under the alias Alexander Page. Jarrah’s work in journalism began in early 2011 when he began attending and often filming Syrian demonstrations inspired by the early Arab Spring protests in Tunisia and Egypt. After being arrested at a Damascus protest in March 2011, Jarrah was detained and tortured by intelligence officers for three days. After his release, Jarrah quit his job at a technology distribution company and committed his time to exposing the dire political situation in Syria.

Using the pseudonym Alexander Page, Jarrah quickly became well known for his daring, on-the-ground footage and frequent testimonies he provided to international media outlets barred from entering the country. This ability to report honestly and safely was compromised however, when his identity was leaked to Syrian government officials. Threats to personal safety forced Jarrah and family to flee to Egypt in October 2011. Jarrah is currently based in Cairo, where he co-produces ANA News Media Association, an independent citizen press group that offers training and support to a network of journalists in Syria.

CJFE is honouring renowned media lawyer Dan Henry with the Vox Libera Award, for his life-long commitment to promoting and defending media freedom. The Vox Libera Award is given to a Canadian who has made an important and sustained contribution to free expression at home or abroad.

Henry has worked on many of the most significant cases in Canadian media law. He was involved in almost every major legal battle to extend media coverage of the courts. Before retiring this year after more than three decades as legal counsel for the CBC, Henry helped scores of journalists navigate the legal hurdles involved in bringing difficult and challenging stories to air. He reviewed thousands of stories before broadcast, and directed the defenses of journalists wishing to protect the confidentiality of their sources and stories that were legally challenged.

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Among the cases he worked on was Dagenais v. Canadian Broadcasting Corp., resulting in a landmark Supreme Court decision that overturned the broadcast ban on the film The Boys of St. Vincent and is considered to be one of the most important rulings on free expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

CJFE will present its 2012 Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award to Enquête, Radio-Canada’s investigative television program, for taking great risks to expose major cases of corruption in Québec. The Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award recognizes a Canadian journalist or organization who has made an important contribution to reinforcing and promoting freedom of the press in this country or elsewhere.

Despite facing legal threats, violence and intimidation, Enquête’s small team of tenacious reporters and researchers, led by host Alain Gravel, bravely continued their investigation of organized crime in Québec. Their work revealed ties between organized crime, the construction industry, the judicial system and politicians, and led in part to the ongoing inquiry of the Charbonneau Commission.

The awards will be presented at CJFE’s annual Gala at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, December 5 beginning at 7:00 p.m. This year's Gala co-hosts will be CTV National News Correspondent Omar Sachedina and CBC Foreign Correspondent Nahlah Ayed.

Each year in conjunction with the International Press Freedom Awards CJFE publishes its International Press Freedom Review, containing profiles of the award winners as well as a survey of key free expression issues around the world. Each spring for the past three years, CJFE has published its Review of Free Expression in Canada, which examines free expression and access to information in this country and grades public institutions on their actions related to free expression.

In October, CJFE and four other organizations announced a submission to the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review of Canada’s human rights record in 2013, raising issues about free expression, access to information, universal internet access and restrictions on freedom of assembly.

The organization also recently conducted its annual Impunity Campaign, leading up to the International Day to End Impunity, November 23, and concluding with a screening of the film A Bitter Taste of Freedom, a film about murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya by filmmaker Marina Goldovskaya.

CJFE also manages the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) clearing house, which helps free expression organizations around the world work together, and intervenes in legal cases affecting freedom of expression in Canada.
 

Grant Buckler is a retired freelance journalist and a volunteer with Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and lives in Kingston, Ont.