Each year CJFE bestows two International Press Freedom Awards in recognition of the courage of journalists who work tirelessly - often risking their lives - so that the news media remain free. This year, the prize is awarded ICORN guest writer Dessale Berekhet and his two colleagues Ruth Zecarias Ghebre and Mebrahthu Teclesion Berhe for their work to promote free expression in their home country, Eritrea, particularly through their establishment of the online journals for a free and democratic Eritrea.
CJFE Executive Director says in their award letter to Berekhet:
The committee was struck not only by your commitment to honest, investigative reporting within Eritrea even after it led to persecution and imprisonment, but also by your determination to cover news in the public interest from exile in Uganda by managing Unitedheartz.com and now the Unitevoices Media Center. CJFE was also moved by the commitment to honest reportage and human rights shown by your Unitedheartz colleague Ruth Zecarias Ghebre and Mebrahtu Teclesion Berhe, who will be sharing this award with you.
Independent voices for a democratic and prosperous Eritrea
From their exile in Uganda and in Norway, the three Eritrean journalists, Dessale Berekhet, Ruth Zecarias Ghebre and Mebrahthu Teclesion Berhe founded the online journals unitedheartz.com and Unitedvoices Media Center (UMC). Unitedheartz.com was established as an independent website in Uganda in December 2011 to fill the gap between opposition and pro-government websites, providing neutral, objective and verified information to serve the interest of the public. Unitedheartz.com was functional for about a year.
In September 2013, they launched the Unitedvoices Media Center (UMC) or “LISAN”, meant to serve as the new voice for people with multiple views, attitudes, perspectives and interests for building a united, stable, democratic and prosperous Eritrea. It is run by devoted Eritrean volunteers who aspire to bridge the gap between pro-government and opposition websites and, with the same motive as unitedheartz.com, intends to bring information with a high degree of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability.
“The website appeared as Eritrea finds itself in critical tension and growing conflicts of interest over controversial national questions such as rules of law, independent justice system, academic freedom, freedom of expression, political pluralism, civil society and rights of assemblage.
We established UMC with a moral obligation to expand healthy freedom of expression, to promote peace and reconciliation, and to advocate for human rights by defending the values of democracy, respecting human dignity, and by approaching problems in manners of tranquility, civility and tolerance. The website discourages any form of violence and language of hatred and confrontation to avoid immoral intents such as defamation, insults, mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortion of facts for economic, religious, political or personal ends or motives.” says Dessale Berekhet and UMC in an interview with ICORN.
Great personal risks and investments
On the question on the personal risks these projects involve for the participants, Dessale says: “In spite of the fact that Uganda has very attractive refugee laws for exiled journalists, we often don’t know who is going to hurt our members. There are usually verbal and physical threats; one of our colleagues faced a physical attack from unknown people; robbery is also a frequent threat. Besides, the team has no security, financial or material assistance from any side that can help maintain the website for further effectiveness. On this occasion I would like to inform all concerned individuals or institutions, which can support this media center in promoting peace, human rights and freedom of expression in Eritrea.”
A helping hand on the road to justice
UMC are grateful about receiving the IPFA prize, though it is also with a heavy heart, considering the situation Eritrean that necessitates these actions by devoted freedom fighters:
We are proud to be winners of this International Press Freedom Award (IPFA). However it is more a burden than a success, because we are still traveling the road of justice with more determination and brave hearts; we shall never stop walking until the final destination of freedom.
On the other hand, the prize will be very significant to our work as it can open a new chapter to inspire the citizens to stand for democratic change; and can help us to build a strong network with different government and non-governmental organizations to boost our mission for swift political transformation for the interest of the majority in Eritrea.
Currently, the team engages in further enlightenment of the citizens, peace promotion, developing justice awareness, and creating ideas for eliminating poverty in Eritrea. If they manage to get funding, they will arrange an academic-based national conference, which can create a spirit discussion and negotiation among Eritreans.
Read the biographies of the three award winners, Dessale Berekhet Abraham, Ruth Zecarias Ghebre and Mebrahthu Teclesion Berhe.
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and International Press
Freedom Award (IPFA) Each year CJFE bestows two International Press Freedom Awards in recognition of the courage of journalists who work tirelessly - often risking their lives - so that the news media remain free. CJFE is a Canadian organization founded in 1981 that works to defend and protect the right to free expression in Canada and around the world. Initially called the CIJ Latin American Committee, the organization now known as CJFE, was born in 1998.
Berekhet is an Eritrean writer and journalist. He worked as a journalist until the crackdown of the private media in Eritrea in September 2001. He then started working for the state owned media as a freelancer. Berekhet has published two cultural books and written five books for children in the local languages Tigre and Tigrigya. He was one of the founders of a Tigre cultural magazine Takiyat, and has worked as its Editor-in-Chief. But it was short lived due to censorship and interference of the regime.
After many of his friends and colleagues were arrested by the regime, Dessale, was forced to flee his home country in Sep. 2010. In exile, Dessale, has continued his fight for justice. He formed a group of veteran Eritrean journalists under the name Unitedheartz team and together they launched the independent website www.unitedheartz.com in 2011. The purpose was to fill the gap between opposition and pro-government websites providing neutral, objective and verified information that could serve the interest of the public. It was shut down.