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Four ordinary journalists take extraordinary risks to do their jobs

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Monday, November 22, 2010; 6:43 PM

ONE WINNER will not be at the award dinner Tuesday night. In fact, confined to Iran's notorious Evin prison, Mohammad Davari may not know that he has won an award, since he has been deprived of contact even with his family for more than eight months. Mr. Davari is being recognized by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) for his courage. But like his fellow honorees from Ethiopia, Russia and Venezuela, Mr. Davari probably would insist that he has done nothing extraordinary. Rather, all four of these first-rate journalists are heroes because they have sought to carry on the normal work of their trade - reporting the truth as best as it can be deciphered - in lands where truth is anathema to those in power.

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Mr. Davari, 39, exposed on his Web site, Saham News, the torture that was taking place in a Tehran detention center. The revelations forced authorities to close the center but also earned Mr. Davari a five-year sentence for "mutiny against the regime."

Ethiopia's Dawit Kebede, 30, was jailed, too, for his fearless reporting on Ethiopia's 2005 election. The regime kept him imprisoned for nearly two years in a communal cell with 350 other political prisoners, according to CPJ, but when he was released Mr. Kebede returned to his daily heroism, opening a newspaper, the Awramba Times, that, virtually alone in his country, continues to report honestly on the regime.

Nadira Isayeva, 31, edits the weekly Chernovik in Dagestan, a republic in southern Russia where violence and corruption are endemic. For seeking to report on both, Ms. Isayeva finds herself facing a possible jail sentence of five years for, among other ostensible crimes, "inciting hatred toward law enforcement officials." She works in a country where journalists have been beaten or killed almost routinely since Vladimir Putin came to a power a decade ago, and where not one of their assailants has been brought to justice. But she told us she would not consider changing careers - nor pursuing hers with any less integrity.

And then there's Laureano Marquez, 47, who has been harassed and fined, as has been his newspaper, Tal Cual, for its gentle mockery of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. The regime's information minister, apparently not one for jokes, has demanded Mr. Marquez's prosecution for "a coup plot disguised as humor," as CPJ recounts. "The space for critical journalism in my country is shrinking every day," Mr. Marquez told us.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have hesitated to criticize too loudly the strangling of freedom in Venezuela for fear of providing Mr. Chavez with fodder for his anti-U.S. propaganda. Mr. Márquez agrees that the strongman would seek to turn Washington's words against it, but he said Mr. Chavez's actions will be no less aggressive in the absence of honest criticism. "The worst thing that can happen when democracy and freedom are threatened is to keep silent," he said.


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