The 2008 winner of the World Association of Newspapers Golden Pen of Freedom, for standing up to government presecution of journalists, went to a Chinese journalist for a second year running.
Li Changqing, deputy editor of the Fuzhou Daily newspaper in Fujian province, was given the prize for his reporting of an outbreak of the deadly dengue fever in 2004. His report came out before the Chinese authorities had admitted the public risk, yet he was arrested and sentenced to three years in jail for ‘fabricating and distributing false information”.
The award was made during the opening ceremony of the World Editors Forum and World Newspaper Congress, in front of 1,800 editors, news executives and King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden.
It is the first time journalists from the same country have won the award in consecutive years since the award was first given in 1961.
Though he was released in February this year, Li and his wife were refused permission to travel to Sweden to pick up the award. A personal message from Li was read by Chinese writer Li Jianhong, who was herself forced to leave the country after facing persecution for her work.
It said: ‘I am deeply aware that this is not only an award to me in particular, but also an award to all my colleagues who are bravely devoting themselves to freedom of speech, especially those in China.
‘The fact that Chinese journalists have been given the Golden Pen of Freedom Award two years in succession, and the fact that China has become the world’s largest jailer of journalists, have shown that the current situation of free expression in China is of growing concern to the whole world.
‘China is a land that needs to be travelled with the voices of conscience and a nation that needs to be saved by the truth.”
George Brock, president of the World Editors Forum and editor of the Saturday edition of The Times, said: ‘In most countries he would be celebrated and honoured for his work – in China disclosing such facts is an imprisonable offence.”
Last year, the Golden Pen prize went to Chinese journalist Shi Tao, who received a 12-year prison sentence for his reporting.
Brock said that in China there are currently 30 journalists and 50 ‘cyber dissidents’in jail for free speech offences – more than any other country in the world