Living legacies: WAN-IFRA’s Golden Pen of Freedom laureates

2024-04-19. Arrested, jailed, killed, forced into exile, released with restrictions… each year, WAN-IFRA’s Golden Pen of Freedom Award symbolises the challenges faced by all too many journalists throughout their careers – and lives…

Tony Heard interviews banned ANC leader Oliver Tambo in exile, in London, 1985. The article appeared in the Cape Times on 5 November, 1985. Photographer unknown

by Lucinda Jordaan | April 19, 2024

On 27 May, when the global media fraternity gathers in Copenhagen for the World News Media Congress, WAN-IFRA will award the 2024 Golden Pen of Freedom. 

This award is made each year to a person or group who has sacrificed much in the cause of press freedom.

As we prepare to honour the 2024 Laureate, we reflect on winners past; the ideal moment to see what has happened to some of those who have received the award in its 63-year history.

On trial in Hong Kong

Jimmy Lai, the founder of former independent newspaper Apple Daily, is 60 days into a trial in Hong Hong that may see him jailed for life. Lai was arrested in December 2020. He has been detained since, and is facing three conspiracy charges related to “sedition and collusion with foreign forces,” for allegedly calling for international sanctions against authorities, and “inciting public hatred.”

The trial began on 18 December 2023, and is expected to last about 80 days. You can follow his trial updates here.

In this picture taken on 16 June 2020, millionaire media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 72, poses during an interview with AFP at the Next Digital offices in Hong Kong. Lai knows his support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests could soon land him behind bars, but the proudly self-described “troublemaker” says he has no regrets. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)

Released, with restrictions, in Iran

On 14 January 2024, last year’s Golden Pen winners,  Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, were granted temporary release from Evin Prison on bail, pending appeal. The very next day, fresh charges were filed against both, this time for breaking the country’s hijab laws. This, after pictures of them celebrating their release with their heads uncovered, circulated on social media.

Though one is facing a year longer in prison than the other, the two Iranian journalists share similar stories. 

Both were imprisoned for reporting on religious freedom conditions, and arrested within a week of each other. 

Both were tried in May 2023, and convicted in October. 

They also faced similar charges: spreading propaganda; committing a crime against national security, and collaborating with a foreign state.

Niloofar Hamedi was sentenced to seven years in prison for “collaborating with the hostile U.S.,” five years for “acting against national security,” and one year for “propaganda against the regime.” Following appeal, she would serve seven years in prison as the sentences run concurrently.

Elaheh Mohammadi was sentenced to six years in prison for “collaborating with the hostile U.S.,” five years in prison for “acting against national security,” and one year in prison for “propaganda.” Following appeal, Mohammadi would serve six years in prison as the sentences run concurrently. 

Both are are awaiting the outcome of their appeals, and are barred from leaving the country. 

See also: Iran: three months after their appeals trial, Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi are still under threat of re-imprisonment

Forced to flee: Mexico

While the total number of journalists in exile is unknown, hundreds of journalists go into exile every year, according to Reuters Institute. A 2023 Committee to Protect Journalists article also points to an increase in support provided to a growing number of exiled journalists “of 227%” from 2020-2022.

WAN-IFRA’s last LatAm laureate, Anabel Hernández (2012) from Mexico, is in exile in Europe, after receiving credible death threats directed at her and her family.

Driven to investigative journalism after the 2000 kidnapping and murder of her father, Hernández worked for various national dailies, and her reporting exposed corruption at the highest levels of Mexican society. 

Hernández has written two books:  ‘Los Señores del Narco  (The Drug Lords), and Emma Y Las Otras Señoras del Narco (Emma and Other Narco Women). The first outlines the complicities between organised crime and high-ranking authorities, from government officials to the police, military and prominent businessmen. The second, focuses on the wives and women within drug cartels.

Along with the 2012 Golden Pen of Freedom Award, Hernández is also the first woman to be awarded the Deutsche Welle (DW) Freedom of Speech Award.

See also: Lessons Learned from Mexican Investigative Journalist Anabel Hernández

 WATCH: Taking on the drug cartels 

Forced to flee: Cuba

Also forced to flee his Cuban homeland, 1996 Golden Pen laureate Yndamiro Restano Díaz, a multi-award winning journalist once described as “Cuba’s leading dissident journalist.”

Restano has won the 1996 Golden Pen of Freedom Award and a 1994 International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Co-founder of the pro-democratic Movimiento de Armonía (Harmony Movement), he was sentenced in 1992 to 10 years’ imprisonment for rebellion, then granted an early release, on 1 June 1995 – largely due to international pressure. 

Later that year, he travelled to Norway on an approved work trip – but was denied the right to return (see extract from Amnesty International report below).

In 2011, Restano co-founded the Cuban Association of Independent Journalists.

See also: Iván García’s retelling of Restano’s story in Independent Journalism Seeks to Revive Press Freedom.

Source: Amnesty International, Cuba: Dissidents Imprisoned or Forced into Exile

See also: Cuba: Independent journalism officially outlawed by the regime

Perpetual persecution: Nicaragua’s political prisoner

More than four decades after receiving the Golden Pen of Freedom, Nicaraguan journalist and politician Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Barrios is now under house arrest, due to ailing health.

He was arrested on 25 June 2021, and charged with “carrying out acts that undermined the sovereignty of Nicaragua.”

Chamorro hails from a prominent Nicaraguan family: his parents were both newspaper publishers and politicians; his father, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal, was assassinated in 1978 and his mother, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, held the presidency from 1990 to 1997.

Chamorro became publisher of the embattled La Prensa, a Nicaraguan daily, following the assassination of his father, and received the Golden Pen of Freedom Award in 1982 for La Prensa’s campaign “against totalitarianism” and its questioning of the Sandinista regime, which temporarily closed the Nicaraguan daily six times.

According to Confidencial: “Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Barrios was sentenced to nine years in prison in a political process carried out in the Chipote prison. Six years were for the alleged crime of misappropriation and improper retention, and three for alleged abusive management. He was sentenced together with his sister, former presidential candidate and former president of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, Cristiana Chamorro Barrios.”

See also: CONFIDENCIAL journalism under the police state in Nicaragua

Resting in power: deans and titans

In February, WAN-IFRA joined the world in paying tribute to veteran Sudanese journalist and 2005 Golden Pen laureate Mahjoub Mohamed Salih (12 April 1928 – 14 February 2024), widely hailed as “the Dean of the Sudanese press,” and “father of Sudanese journalism,” who died in Cairo, Egypt at 95.

Just last month, the South African media fraternity mourned the passing of another Golden Pen laureate, a ‘titan of journalism’: Anthony (Tony) Hazlitt Heard (20 November 1937 – 27 March 2024), who died in Cape Town.

In 1985, as the editor of the Cape Times in South Africa, Heard defied apartheid restrictions to publish an historic interview with Oliver Tambo – at the time the banned, exiled leader of the banned African National Congress.

Heard was subsequently arrested under security laws, though charges were later dropped. The Cape Times was fined and, in 1987, fired him.

See also: How I was fired


Heard was awarded the Pringle Award (by the South African Society of Journalists )in 1985; the Golden Pen of Freedom in 1986 and the Allan Kirkland Soga Lifetime Achievement Award at the Standard Bank Sikuvile Awards, organised by the South African National Editors’ Forum in 2022. 

He was a Nieman Fellow, twice Fulbright Visiting Scholar at University of Arkansas (1989, 1992), and spent time as a Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar in 2010.

He also wrote two books: Cape of Storms: A Personal History of the Crisis in South Africa and 8000 Days: Mandela, Mbeki and beyond — The inside story of an editor in the corridors of power.

He had completed the final draft of his third book, Cost of Courage, shortly before his death; it details his family’s lifetime search for answers to the mysterious disappearance of his father, political journalist George Heard, in 1945. Heard’s mother, Vida Heard, was also a journalist, as is his daughter Janet, a Nieman Fellow (2010) now at Daily Maverick, who aims to finish the book.

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