A Chinese journalist, who was imprisoned for five months and has been barred from resuming his professional activities after publishing articles revealing the 2003 SARS epidemic and the case of death in a Guangzhou police station, has been awarded a prestigious United Nations-sponsored press freedom prize.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO
) Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura yesterday named Cheng Yizhong winner of the 2005 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize on the recommendation of an independent jury of media professionals from all over the world.
The $25,000 prize, named in honour of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist assassinated by drug cartels in front of the offices of his newspaper, El Espectador, was established on the initiative of UNESCO's Executive Board and is formally presented by the Director-General on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, which this year will be celebrated in Dakar, Senegal.
"Mr. Cheng represents Chinese journalism at its best; he speaks out for the weak and checks the strong. His courageous outspokenness has contributed to raising public awareness in China," said Kavi Chongkittavorn, executive editor of the Bangkok English-language daily The Nation, who chaired the jury.
As editor of Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis Daily) Mr. Cheng, 40, broke new ground in Chinese journalism. His editorial independence and professional know-how helped turn his paper into one of the most successful dailies in the country, according to UNESCO.
Imprisoned for five months with two of his colleagues, Yu Huafeng and Li Minying, he was released in August 2004. While no formal charges were laid against him, he has been barred from resuming his professional activities.
"I feel very relieved and comforted, but I also feel sad," Mr. Cheng said in expressing his gratitude for the prize. "All we have done is act according to our conscience. Unfortunately we have had to pay a price for following our conscience."