National Press Club

Slain Sri Lankan, NYT Journalists Win Club's Press Freedom Awards; Dinner Monday

July 30, 2009 | By John Donnelly | jdonnelly@cq.com

A slain Sri Lankan journalist and a New York Times reporter held captive for seven months will receive the NPC the 2009 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Awards.

The awards are bestowed on one international journalist and one American jounalist who embody the principles of a free press. They will be honored at the Awards Dinner on Aug. 3.

This year's recipients are:

  • The late Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of the Sunday Leader in Sri Lanka until January, when gunmen on motorcycles assassinated him in his car on the way to work.
  • David Rohde of the New York Times, who was held captive by the Taliban for seven months before escaping from a compound in Pakistan in June.

"David Rohde and Lasantha Wickramatunga have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to journalism," Club President Donna Leinwand said. "Rohde risked his life, and Wickramatunga gave his life to give their readers the truth. The represent the best in our profession."

Wickramatunga's paper did investigations of the Sri Lankan government.
He had been attacked before, and predicted he would be killed for
exposing the truth in an essay that he instructed should be made public
only upon his death.

"I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an
inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts," he wrote
before his death.

The Taliban kidnapped Rohde, his driver and a local reporter
last November while Rohde was in Afghanistan working on a book about the
history of U.S. involvement there.

The Board of Governors said that Rohde displayed extraordinary courage not only
in bravely escaping but also in doggedly reporting about Afghanistan
under perilous conditions. He won a Pulitzer this year for his reporting
in Afghanistan and Pakistan and, in 1996, for documenting the slaughter
of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica; he was also held captive back then, by
Serbs.

The board said that Wickmaratunga and Rohde represent the many reporters
who dig for truth in the face of personal jeopardy.

"Because of the courage of these men and people like them, press freedom is kept alive
around the world despite determined efforts to squelch it," the board
said.

The Awards Dinner is at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 3, in the Holeman Lounge. Cost
is $45 per person; reservations are required by calling 202-662-7501.
For more information, contact Joann Booze at 202-662-7532 or
jbooze@press.org.