The 'Samir Kassir Award 2019:' Recognizing freedom of speech

“This is the one event a year, in the Middle East, where we really have the chance to celebrate the brave journalists that fight for freedom of expression and human rights all over the region. We are proud that it has become such a regional symbol now.”
by Chiri Choukeir

31 May 2019 | 12:56

Source: by Annahar

  • by Chiri Choukeir
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 31 May 2019 | 12:56

Gisele Khoury, the widow of the late Samir Kassir, and a presenter for BBC Arabic, gives remarks Thursday at the Freedom of the Press Award ceremony. (Annahar)

BEIRUT: It was the Oscars of journalism, attended by award-winning journalism icons, ministers, and press from all around the world, for the 14th Edition of the “Samir Kassir Award For Freedom the Press.”.

In the heart of Sursock Gardens, gathered hundreds of attendees on Thursday, May 30, for the final announcement of the winners from the 233 submitted opinion articles, investigative articles, and audiovisual news reporting, most applications being from Egypt. The jury was assembled of seven members Fadi El Aballah, Ammar Abd Rabbo, Baria Alamuddine, Sofia Amara, Thanassis Cambanis, Alessio Romenzi, Biljana Tatomir, that were all influential and award-winning journalists.

“This is the one event a year, in the Middle East, where we really have the chance to celebrate the brave journalists that fight for freedom of expression and human rights all over the region. We are proud that it has become such a regional symbol now.” Christina Lasson, Ambassador of the European Union to Lebanon, told Annahar. “We have more and more applications each year, it proves that there’s a need for this award which we are very proud of, and more journalists are giving a voice to the voiceless.”

The ceremony commenced with the Lebanese and European Anthem, followed by a passionate speech of Gisele Khoury Kassir, Samir Kassir’s widow. “There's hysteria in our region, from encouraging executions in the name of nationalism, and instinctual speeches that invite the killing of one another both physically and mentally, whether by taking one’s life or throwing them in prison.”

Khoury went on to explain the important role Kassir has played in shaping the need for journalists to take initiative and fight for the freedom of speech. And now, 14 years after his assassination, he is still looked upon as an almost legendary figure – daily journalist, book author, political activist ---and a martyr for the freedom and right of the free press.

After Khoury’s powerful speech, Lasson announced “I believe that the Samir Kassir award is one of the most inspiring events that we as the European Union are involved with here in Lebanon. It’s always a real source of motivation, and a moving experience to meet the finalists who are all with us here tonight and see the high quality of journalistic work they produce, and my first word here tonight is to them.”

Lassen went on to thank the finalists for their work, that overcame obstacles and challenges to shed light and reveal truths untold. She explained that the Samir Kassir Award was created by the European Union, in collaboration with Samir Kassir Foundation in 2006 to commemorate Kassir. “This year the report from the World Press Freedom Index, published every year by Reports Without Borders, pointed out in the 2019 report that journalists have never been subjected to such violence as they were in 2018, especially in the MENA region.”

After the jury of journalists was introduced, journalist Baria Alamuddine, represented the jury with a speech that broke down their judging criteria and the experience itself. “As journalists, we tend to get very jaded, and cynical, we’ve seen it all before. This competition has been such a pleasure, so many fresh perspectives and fascinating new angles of issues the world is in need to know of. I am really in awe of these young people who saw the dangers and threats of this profession, and yet still chose to devote their lives to it.” Alamuddine ended.

It was time to announce the winners and finalists of each category submitted. First, was the opinion article category with Syrian journalist Roger Asfar winning the award for his piece “Captain Majed or ‘the father commander?” Where he criticized the blind adoration of a murderous regime.

The other candidates were Egyptian journalist, Tamer Abu Arab, for his piece “Murder As a Precaution”, Syrian journalist, Tarek Jaber, for his piece “Desecrating the Assaad Regime,” and Palestinian journalist, Yehia Al Yaqoubi, for his sentimental piece “On Mother’s Day Razan Will Not Gather Roses.”.

“I would like to thank the Samir Kassir Foundation, the EU and metaphorically the Syrian revolution, which, at its heart, is a benevolent and kind initiative,” Asfar said humbly accepting the award, ”It’s a sad reality that, while I receive this award, civilians are still dying in my country.”

For the investigative Article category, Syrian journalist Ali Al Ibrahim took home the award for his article “Forging Death: the Syrian Regime Conceals its War Crimes.” Other candidates were Iraqi journalist, Maizar Fayyad, with her piece “The Journey of an Iraqi Woman From Marriage to Quadriplegia”, and Egyptian journalist Hoda Zakaria with “This is Sharqiyah”.

“I am very proud of this achievement, but, as I was coming to Beirut, I received a report telling me that, since the Syrian revolution began in 2011, more than 700 journalists have been killed, including, of course, citizen journalists,” said Al Ibrahim in his acceptance speech, “Thus, I give this award for my fellow journalists who perished while doing their job, and to my sister and mother who were both killed by airstrikes from the regime.”

As for the last category, winners of the audiovisual news report category were Palestinian journalist, Yehya Al Yaqoubi, and Moroccan journalist, Youssef Zirawi, for their documentary “Bouchra: A Woman,“ about the rights of Moroccan women. “I award this honor to both my wife and Yousef’s wife, as well as to our mothers and all the free independent Moroccan women,” a spokesperson for Youssef Zirawi, who couldn’t attend the ceremony.

Runner-up candidates were journalists Ansar Abou Fara, from Jordan and Hala Nasreddine, from Lebanon with their documentary about the rights of Arab women to pass their nationality to their children. Lebanese journalist, Mohamad Chreyteh, was also a candidate with his short film “Art forces the Monecas out of their hometown” that talked about an Iraqi family fragmented by war.

After the awarding the winners and thanking the applicants, jury, the EU, and the foundation, attendees were invited to a reception at the Sursock Gardens.

-- Written with Maysaa Ajjan.

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