- Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist currently serving a 10-year jail term for revealing his government’s orders to newspapers to censor their reporting of the Tiananmen Square massacre anniversary, has won the World Association of Newspapers’ distinguished Golden Pen of freedom. WAN is currently holding its congress in Cape Town.
Mr Tao's arrest and imprisonment came about after the American search engine company Yahoo supplied vital information to the Chinese authorities.
The 38-year-old journalist's mother, Gao Qinsheng, took the risk and flew to Cape Town to receive the award.
"Even today, most Chinese know nothing about what happened that day.
The Communist regime continues to prevent the Chinese media from talking
And writing about it openly and honestly and will go to great lengths to silence any such revelations and to severely punish those who make them," George Brock, President of the World Editors Forum, who presented the award, says.
"Shi Tao, whom we are honouring here today, has learned this to his own great cost. He revealed what the state did not want known and he pays the price in prison today."
In her sombre speech, Mrs Qinsheng, said has been "a direct victim of the shackles of press freedom."
She however said the award is a clear proof that her “son is indeed innocent. He has only done what a courageous journalist should do. That is why he has got the support and the sympathy from his colleagues all over the world, who uphold justice, the colleagues who have been concerned about Shi Tao who has lost his freedom, been locked up in prison."
The award ceremony is among the cream of events of WAN conference in Cape Town.
China has so far proven to be the biggest jail for journalists in the world. But WAN said its next campaign will be around how to win the release of Mr Shi and dozens of other journalists and cyber-dissidents in the country’s jails. There will be news coverage on the issues ahead of the Beijing Olympics next year.
Mr Shi was convicted for "leaking state secrets" by writing an e-mail about media restrictions in the run-up to the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 2004. The e-mail was picked up by several overseas internet portals - and also by Chinese authorities, with the assistance of Yahoo. The internet service provider gave state security authorities information that allowed them to trace the message to a computer he used at the newspaper where he worked, the Dangdai Shang Bao.
"How the Chinese authorities traced this e-mail, and discovered that
Shi Tao was the author, is a cautionary tale with widespread implications for on-line privacy, and for the way that western communications companies do business in their understandably difficult dealings with repressive regimes," said Mr Brock.
"While those who do business around the globe must often deal with non-democratic countries, we believe that new media companies that provide more and more of the means for global communications have a special responsibility" he said. "They have an obligation to ensure that the basic human rights of their users will be protected, and they must carefully guard against becoming accomplices in repression."
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