ZARAGOZA, SPAIN – Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, who was abducted, tortured and sexually assaulted on her way to interview an infamous paramilitary warlord in Bogota in 2000 has been awarded the Golden Pen of Freedom award by the World Association of News Publishers (Wan-Ifra) on Wednesday (Sept 16).
Ms Bedoya Lima was investigating reports of alleged arms sales between the paramilitaries and state officials for her newspaper, El Espectador in 2000 when she went to the notorious La Modelo prison in Bogota, for the interview.
Three years later, in 2003, while working for El Tiempo, she was again abducted and held for eight days when she had travelled to meet members of the former Revolution Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerrilla group that waged war against the Colombian state for 52 years. There, she was humiliated and beaten.
For years she kept her harrowing experiences to herself but in 2009, she broke her silence when she launched the campaign No Es Hora De Callar (It is not time to be silent) to defend women’s rights and denounce the habitual and systematic impunity in cases of sexual violence within Colombia’s internal war.
Wan-Ifra said the Golden Pen of Freedom award recognises “Ms Bedoya Lima’s dedication to the profession of journalism, her tireless work in promoting and protecting the rights of women, and her courage in confronting and overcoming her own personal tragedy with a level of dignity and determination that serves as inspiration to peers the world over.”
“This award is the greatest encouragement and support that a journalist can receive,” said Ms Bedoya Lima when accepting the award.
“Working for press freedom is one of the greatest commitments that a media outlet and a journalist can have and being awarded the Golden Pen of Freedom is also recognition of the tireless fight against impunity that dozens of journalists face around the world,” she added.
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper in 2009, Ms Bedoya Lima said that she had kept silent about the tragic events that befell her for many years because the government simply “would not recognise these crimes”.
“No one wanted to look into it, or even talk about it. When I wanted to pursue my own case, and contacted the police hospital for the evidence, it had all been destroyed,” she explained.
In 2012, her efforts were acknowledged by Colombia’s Public Prosecutor’s Office when it was announced that her torture and sexual assault constituted a crime against humanity.
In a landmark decision in July 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) confirmed Ms Bedoya Lima as a victim and declared the Colombian state responsible for the acts committed against her nearly two decades before.
She was the first victim to bring a sexual violence case in Colombia to an international tribunal.
In delivering the award at a virtual event, President of the World Editors Forum Warren Fernandez described Ms Bedoya Lima’s conviction and courage as a “shining inspiration” at a time when “journalists, women and minorities are under such great threat of violence, oppression, and discrimination” around the world.
“In speaking truth to power, in your pursuit of justice and drive to bring impunity to an end, you represent the very best of our profession,” said Mr Fernandez, who is also The Straits Times’ editor-in-chief.
Ms Bedoya Lima has also received the 2020 Unerco/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. And in August 2019, she won the Press Freedom Grand Prix from the Inter-American Press Association (SIP).
In 2016, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the defence of women’s rights as a result of her campaign against gender violence and impunity in Colombia.
The live-streaming of the award was followed by a discussion, which panel included Ms Bedoya Lima and Ms Maria Ressa, a journalist and chief executive of Rappler, a Philippine news portal known for its tough scrutiny of President Rodrigo Duterte. Ms Ressa had won the 2018 Golden Pen of Freedom award.
Other notable winners of the award included the late Jamal Kashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist who in 2018 was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The Golden Pen of Freedom is Wan-Ifra’s annual award recognising individuals or organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom.
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