Monday, March 16, 2015
On Friday 13 March Free Press Unlimited was awarded the Geuzenpenning, a yearly accolade for people and organisations who fight for human rights and oppose dictatorship, discrimination and racism. Liliane Ploumen, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development, presented the award to Director Leon Willems on behalf of the Stichting Geuzenpenning.

Nine journalists from all over the world were present at the ceremony at the invitation of Free Press Unlimited: Muhammad Tayyeb Afridi (Pakistan), Bazlur Rahman (Bangladesh), Hennah Draaibaar (Suriname), Fungai Machirori (Zimbabwe), Khatoun Haidar (Lebanon), Kamal Eldin Elsadig Mohamed Yosif (Sudan), Gregory Shvedov (Russia/Caucasia and himself the winner of the Geuzenpenning award in 2012), Anabel Hernández (Mexico) en Alina Radu (Moldova). "Because the real work is done by them and our mission is simply to make it possible for them to do it and to continue to do it", according to Leon Willems.

All were present on Friday morning at a gathering of teenage schoolchildren in Vlaardingen. The youngsters asked surprising questions about press freedom, freedom of expression, security and about the journalists themselves. And they received candid answers and sometimes words of advice. Gregory Shvedov, who in his country is continually searching for the truth and as a result is constantly obstructed by many parties: "Always ask a follow-up question! You can't trust anybody! Keep asking questions!". Anabel Hernandez, who writes amongst other things about drugs cartels in Mexico: "Don't take drugs! And if you do, remember that each time you take drugs, somebody in Mexico will be murdered. Don't do it!"

“If necessary fight for freedoms”

At the impressive awards ceremony in the Grote Kerk in Vlaardingen, Free Press Unlimited received praise. Minister Ploumen underlined the fact that the work of journalists has become more difficult and how essential the work of the organisation is: "At present, only one in seven people lives in a country whose press can be described as 'free'. This is a sad state of affairs. But it makes abundantly clear that this year's award by the Stichting Geuzenpenning is fully justified. For those who possibly considered the fight for press freedom as something which takes place in far away countries, the events in Paris and Copenhagen at the beginning of this year hopefully served as a wake-up call. I've said it before and I'll say it again: we can't and shouldn't take anything for granted. Freedom of expression and a free press are not self-evident facts, and that applies to us too. We must be prepared to defend these freedoms, and if necessary to fight for them."

“Je suis Charlie” is not enough

In his acceptance speech, Leon Willems called upon Dutch journalists to show more solidarity towards their foreign colleagues: "Journalists who work in anonymity, are left to their own devices, they deserve our attention, support and loyalty. We support them as much as we can. But our work - and that of many others - would be more effective if politicians and society in the Netherlands were to become more aware of the importance of the values which we hold dear in this country. If all of us say: "Je suis Charlie" - it would be good to turn our words into deeds and to extend our solidarity to the large number of non-Western journalists who have been the victims of extremism and violence for much longer. And this means that all journalists in the Netherlands should do a little bit more for their foreign colleagues."

In addition, he drew attention to the indulgent attitude of the Netherlands towards crimes going unpunished. He stressed that it is important to support journalists, but that it is even more important to put a stop to violence: "Why do we let those who attack journalists get away with it so easily? We can put all our money towards the protection of journalists, but it is only when the perpetrators know that they will be punished that violence will decrease. The Netherlands can play a bigger role in ensuring that crimes do not go unpunished. Only by addressing governments, by placing the punishment of crime on the international agenda, can we put an end to this cycle of violence.

"I no longer feel alone"

The Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernandez briefly gave the 800 people attending a sense of what she and all the other courageous journalists face in all those difficult situations, in a moving account:

"Marginalisation, loneliness and the dangers involved mean that you ask yourself time after time if it is worth being a voice in a web of lies, where deception by those who wish to hide the truth can even lead to you being labelled as a liar. Whilst treading this lonely path, I met friends with the same goal: Free Press Unlimited. Now whilst I pursue the path of investigative journalism, responsibility and condemnations, I no longer feel alone. The feeling of togetherness has given me the strength to carry on."