A Tibetan blogger under constant Chinese surveillance, a Colombian radio journalist who was abducted twice and faces constant threats, and a Tanzanian freelancer who went undercover to investigate the killings of albinos received Courage in Journalism Awards Tuesday from the International Women's Media Foundation.
The group also awarded its Lifetime Achievement Award to Alma Guillermoprieto, one of two reporters who broke the story of one of the worst massacres in modern Latin American history: the killing of 800 Salvadoran women, men and children by U.S.-trained soldiers.
More than 600 people attended the awards luncheon honoring the women _ but Tsering Woeser was unable to attend because the Chinese government had confiscated her passport.
In a videotaped acceptance speech, the 44-year-old Tibetan writer based in Beijing said that during anti-government protests in Tibet in 2008 which erupted in violence and led to a Chinese government crackdown she felt that if she didn't get news out about what was happening "the anguish of an entire people would vanish forever behind a veil of darkness ... (and) our descendants would never know the sacrifices their ancestors made."
Relying on sources and using traditional and modern communications, she said she gathered facts which she put on her blog, Invisible Tibet, to let the world know how Tibet was being engulfed "in blood and fire." The blog received several million hits a day, and there continue to be many attempts to block it and harass and arrest her.
"Every kind of inhumanity and injustice is still being visited upon Tibet," Woerser said. "Many outstanding people, innocent people, have been arrested and are suffering unimaginable torment."
But she vowed: "I will keep my one-person media operation going for it is the weapon of the powerless."
Claudia Julieta Duque, an investigative journalist for Colombia's Radio Nizkor, described how she was kidnapped and robbed in July 2001 when she started investigating the 1999 murder of political humorist and journalist Jaime Garzon. The kidnappers told her to stop her research, but she refused and in 2004, her suspicions that Colombia's secret police tampered with evidence related to his murder were confirmed.
As a result of this incident and constant threats to her life _ sometimes up to 70 calls a day _ she was forced to leave Colombia three times. In December 2009, she discovered a memorandum which confirmed that the threats _ including one to kill, rape and torture her then 10-year-old daughter _ were by the secret police, which reported directly to President Alvaro Uribe.
"As a victim, I will fight until the last day of my life for real justice, which only will be possible when former President Alvaro Uribe .... is convicted for the illegal persecution he led against more than 300 people in Colombia," Duque said. "As a journalist, I will continue working to make people aware about the real dimensions of the espionage and its consequences for Colombia's democracy."
She recalled that in 2004, her daughter asked for "a normal life" as a Christmas present. But as Christmas 2010 approaches, Duque said, "we are still far away from a normal life" and she continues her journalism "under extreme circumstances."
Vicky Ntetema, a freelance reporter who has worked for the BBC since 1991, said her life has also been far from normal since she began investigating the brutal killings of albinos in Tanzania by witchdoctors in late 2007 after hearing about four murders. While working undercover in July 2008, her hidden tape recorder slipped out and a police officer told witchdoctors she was there to report on the murders.
She started receiving death threats, but kept on investigating and discovered 58 murdered albinos, six with amputations, three with severe injuries, and the bodies of 10 albinos stolen from graves.
Albinism is a genetic disorder in which the pigment is totally or partially removed from skin, hair and eyes, but Ntetema said "the witchdoctors pedal the notion that potions made with albino organs, hair and blood bring wealth."
As a result of exposing the murders, 10 men have been sentenced to hang, about 200 witchdoctors were arrested and there was "a lull in the butchery," she said.
But last month, the Tanzanian government lifted a 21-month ban on witchdoctors and traditional healers and "that means that my life is in danger again," Ntetema said.
Guillermoprieto urged the audience to read a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists on how drug traffickers have taken control of Mexican border cities like Reynosa to such an extent that journalists have been "terrorized into absolute submission" and don't report on the violence and killings.
Associated Press Writer Maria Sanminiatelli contributed to this report from New York.