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AFP Somalia journalist wins key press award

An AFP journalist who is among the few independent reporters still working in war-torn Mogadishu received Tuesday a key press award for his work, along with three other correspondents. "By recognizing me, you are also recognizing the courage of the small band of working journalists still in Somalia," Mustafa Haji Abdinur said at the ceremony for the Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) International Press Freedom Awards.

An AFP journalist who is among the few independent reporters still working in war-torn Mogadishu received Tuesday a key press award for his work, along with three other correspondents. "By recognizing me, you are also recognizing the courage of the small band of working journalists still in Somalia," Mustafa Haji Abdinur said at the ceremony for the Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) International Press Freedom Awards.

Mustafa Haji Abdinur (R) accepts an award from Bill Keller ©AFP/Getty Images Michael Nagle

Noting the dangers facing his media colleagues in the country, Abdinur -- who is also editor-in-chief of Somalia's independent Radio Simba -- said the CPJ was "paying tribute to those reporters who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their profession." Six Somali journalists have died on duty in Somalia this year alone, and 18 have been killed since 2005. Foreign journalists are no longer stationed there and the remaining reporters are often targeted in this country that has been embroiled in virtually non-stop civil war since 1991, Abdinur said. In his speech Abdinur said he was accepting the award "for all those who put their lives on the line for our profession everyday, and for those who have paid for the privilege of being a journalist with their own blood."

The other recipients included Naziha Rejiba, editor of independent online news journal Kalima, which is banned in her home country of Tunisia. "I am neither a hero nor a victim, but a journalist who wishes to work under normal conditions," she said on accepting her award. "The degree of repression in Tunisia is such that it transforms normal activities into something exceptional." The other award winners were absent from the event at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel because their work critical of government repression had landed them in jail. They were Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of Realny Azerbaijan newspaper, and J.S. Tissainayagam, editor of the news website OutreachSL and a columnist for the English-language Sri Lankan Sunday Times. Abdinur, with the help of a business partner, launched Radio Simba in 2007, reaching more than two million listeners across southern and central Somalia. His work for AFP and other Western media outlets has made him a target of both the insurgents and government security forces. Insurgents beat him after he assisted Japanese journalists with Kyodo News agency, and government authorities arrested him for airing an interview with a leader of hardline Shebab insurgents. But all this and more -- death threats forced his family to relocate -- did not deter Abdinur.

"For my entire life -- I'm 27 years old -- there has been no effective central government in Somalia. It's a failed state. That makes it so dangerous to be a reporter because there is no police, no army and no court system to back you up if you get in trouble," he said. "That is why, ladies and gentlemen, your support is so vital to me, and to my courageous colleagues who every day brave the bullet-scarred streets to bring you news of our unending civil war." Fatullayev was detained in Azerbaijan after investigating the 2005 death of Monitor magazine editor Elmar Huseynov, a friend and colleague. Two years later, he published an article alleging that high-ranking government authorities had ordered the murder and obstructed the investigation. Within days, Fatullayev received death threats and months later was convicted to an eight-year term on what the CPJ called "a number of baseless charges." Tissainayagam, also known as Tissa, was taken by the authorities after he went to the government's Terrorism Investigation Division in March 2008 to seek information about a colleague who had been arrested the day before. Currently serving a 20-year prison term, he was among dozens of ethnic Tamil journalists who were seized during the 26-year conflict between the Sinhalese-majority government and Tamil separatists. Chinese reporter Jiang Weiping, who was arrested in December 2000 and sentenced to a nine-year prison term after penning several articles exposing government corruption, also accepted a CPJ prize awarded in 2001, after he was allowed to travel following his release. "I was so encouraged by the prize," Jiang told AFP. "It supported me mentally tremendously," said Jiang, former Dalian bureau chief for the newspaper Wen Hui Bao and reporter for the state news agency Xinhua. Also at the ceremony, former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis received the Burton Benjamin Award for his lifetime achievement at the leading US newspaper.