By Raza Ruman
The Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) has presented its 2019 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award, for extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom, to Pakistan’s Dawn editor Zaffar Abbas.
Mr Abbas remained steadfast in the controversy of Dawn Leaks in 2016.
Abbas is the editor of Dawn, Pakistan’s leading daily newspaper. He has an extensive career in journalism, starting in 1981, when he worked as a junior reporter for the Karachi-based newspaper The Star. In 1988, he began working at the Herald, a prestigious Pakistani monthly magazine, as its leading investigative reporter. Four years later, he joined the BBC World Service as a Pakistan correspondent in Islamabad.
In 2006, Abbas left the BBC to join Dawn, where he reported on events including insurgency and civil war in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and post-9/11 policies and developments in the region, including the rise of Islamic militancy. In 2010, he was named Dawn’s editor-in-chief.
Under Abbas’ editorship, Dawn has come under government pressure several times. In May 2018, military guards disrupted the distribution of the newspaper in many parts of the country after the paper printed an interview with the former prime minister. Those disruptions still continue in some areas. In 2016, after Dawn published an exclusive report on the relationship between the military and leaders of the then-ruling party, distribution of the paper to provinces such as Sindh and Punjab was disrupted. Abbas told CPJ that he and the reporter of the story were each interrogated by members of the intelligence service for hours, but they refused to divulge their sources.
Abbas has faced reprisals for his work in the past. In 1991, armed men attacked him and his brother at his home in Karachi after he reported on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement political party. The two were badly beaten, and he required stitches on his head. A few years later, armed extremists attacked the BBC office in Islamabad and set it on fire, and beat him and his colleague. The attack was in apparent retaliation for two films shown on the BBC that showed members of a majority Sunni sect advocating attacks on Shias.
In 2018, CPJ published a special report on Pakistan, accompanied by a documentary, that found that widespread intimidation and threats of assault have led journalists and editors to avoid reporting stories on topics that would lead them into trouble. These topics include a wide range of touchy issues: religion, Chinese investment, relations with India, militant groups, and criticism of the military. “Even discussing politics or serious conflicts can be a red line,” Abbas told CPJ last year.
Amid threats and murders of Pakistani journalists in recent years, Abbas has been a vocal supporter of industry steps for journalists to keep themselves safe. In 2015, he was elected chairman of Editors for Safety, a network of editors in Pakistan who work together to protect journalists who come under attack.
CPJ’s 2019 Awards
Patrícia Campos Mello, Brazil
Neha Dixit, India
Lucía Pineda Ubau and Miguel Mora, Nicaragua
Maxence Melo Mubyazi, Tanzania
CPJ’s 2019 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award
Press Freedom Awards By Year
Amal Khalifa Idris Habbani (Sudan), Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Vietnam), Luz Mely Reyes (Venezuela), Anastasiya Stanko (Ukraine)
Ahmed Abba (Cameroon), Patricia Mayorga (Mexico), Afrah Nasser (Yemen), Pravit Rojanaphruk (Thailand)
Mahmoud Abou Zeid, Shawkan (Egypt), Malini Subramaniam (India), Can Dündar (Turkey), Óscar Martínez (El Salvador)
Cándido Figueredo Ruíz (Paraguay), Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (Syria), Zone 9 Bloggers (Ethiopia), Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, “Zunar” (Malaysia)
Aung Zaw (Burma), Siamak Ghaderi (Iran), Mikhail Zygar (Russia), Ferial Haffajee (South Africa)
Janet Hinostroza (Ecuador), Bassem Youssef (Egypt), Nedim Şener (Turkey), Nguyen Van Hai (Vietnam)
Mauri König (Brazil), Dhondup Wangchen (China), Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan), Mae Azango (Liberia)
Mansoor al-Jamri (Bahrain), Natalya Radina (Belarus), Javier Valdez Cárdenas (Mexico), Umar Cheema (Pakistan)
Mohammad Davari (Iran), Nadira Isayeva (Russia), Dawit Kebede (Ethiopia), Laureano Márquez (Venezuela)
Mustafa Haji Abdinur (Somalia), Naziha Réjiba (Tunisia), Eynulla Fatullayev (Azerbijan), J.S. Tissainayagam (Sri Lanka)
Bilal Hussein (Iraq), Danish Karokhel and Farida Nekzad (Afghanistan), Andrew Mwenda (Uganda), Hector Maseda Gutiérrez (Cuba)
Dmitry Muratov (Russia), Mazhar Abbas (Pakistan), Adela Navarro Bello (Mexico), Gao Qinrong (China)
Jesús Abad Colorado (Colombia), Jamal Amer (Yemen), Madi Ceesay (The Gambia), Atwar Bahjat (Iraq)
Galima Bukharbaeva (Uzbekistan), Beatrice Mtetwa (Zimbabwe), Lúcio Flávio Pinto (Brazil), Shi Tao (China)
Svetlana Kalinkina (Belarus), Aung Pwint and Thaung Tun (Burma), Alexis Sinduhije (Burundi), Paul Klebnikov (United States)
Abdul Samay Hamed (Afghanistan), Aboubakr Jamai (Morocco), Musa Muradov (Russia), Manuel Vázquez Portal (Cuba)
Ignacio Gómez (Colombia), Tipu Sultan (Bangladesh), Irina Petrushova (Kazakhstan), Fesshaye Yohannes (Eritrea)
Jiang Weiping (China), Geoff Nyarota (Zimbabwe), Horacio Verbitsky (Argentina), Mazen Dana (West Bank)
Zeljko Kopanja (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Modeste Mutinga (DRC), Steven Gan (Malaysia), Mashallah Shamsolvaezin (Iran)
Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández (Cuba), Baton Haxhiu (Kosovo), Jugnu Mohsin and Najam Sethi (Pakistan), María Cristina Caballero (Colombia)
Grémah Boucar (Niger), Gustavo Gorriti (Panama), Pavel Sheremet (Belarus), Ruth Simon (Eritrea)
Viktor Ivancic (Croatia), Freedom Neruda (Ivory Coast), Christine Anyanwu (Nigeria). Ying Chan (United States) and Shieh Chung-Liang (Taiwan)
Ocak Isik Yurtçu (Turkey), Daoud Kuttab (Palestinian Authority), J. Jesus Blancornelas (Mexico), Yusuf Jameel (India)
– Pak Destiny