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RFE/RL’s Prokopyeva Honored With CPJ International Press Freedom Award

RFE/RL contributor Svetlana Prokopyeva, outside of the Pskov Regional Court as her trial got underway in June 2020.
RFE/RL contributor Svetlana Prokopyeva, outside of the Pskov Regional Court as her trial got underway in June 2020.

Svetlana Prokopyeva, a Pskov-based contributor to the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Russian Service project Northern.Realities, was honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) with the media freedom watchdog’s International Press Freedom Award. Receiving the award along with Prokopyeva were journalists from Bangladesh (Shahidul Alam), Iran (Mohammad Mosaed), and Nigeria (Dapo Olorunyomi). The awards were presented on November 19 during a virtual ceremony hosted by CPJ.

In presenting the Award to Prokopyeva, PBS Newshour White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor said, “Independent journalists are often stifled through intimidation...Here is one journalist who refuses to let that happen.” Prokopyeva echoed Alcindor’s comment in her acceptance speech, noting that “In today’s Russia, many officials, including prosecutors and judges, do not understand journalists’ mission, or why we need freedom of speech...We are sliding into totalitarianism -- again. Because if there is no freedom of speech, other freedoms are out of reach.”

In July 2020, Prokopyeva was convicted by a court in Pskov, a city in western Russia near Estonia, of "justifying terrorism" over a commentary she prepared for the local affiliate of Ekho Moskvy radio in November 2018. Prokopyeva denied the charges, saying she had been put on trial for doing her job, but was ordered to pay a fine of about 500,000 rubles (about $7,000); Prokopyeva is appealing the fine.

In her final testimony to the court on July 3, Prokopyeva declared, “I am not afraid to criticize the government…I am not afraid to criticize law enforcement or tell the security organs that they are wrong. Because I know how really horrific it will become if I don’t speak out -- if no one speaks out.”

More than 30 independent Russian journalists issued statements in support of Prokopyeva, with some calling the case a defining moment for the country’s press. European Union spokesman Peter Stano released a statement calling Prokopyeva’s conviction “unjustified,” noting that her prosecution is “testimony to the ever-shrinking space for independent journalism and civil society in the Russian Federation.”

The 2020 International Press Freedom Awards represented the 30th time CPJ has honored courageous journalists from around the world and marked the organization’s dedication to fighting for press freedom globally. This year’s virtual event, hosted by NBC’s Lester Holt and featuring cameos by numerous prominent journalists and media freedom advocates, was streamed around the world by news outlets ABC News, Bloomberg, CBS News, HuffPost, NBC News, Yahoo! News, The Los Angeles Times and PBS NewsHour in the U.S., Drik Picture Library in Bangladesh, Kenya’s Nation Media Group, Premium Times in Nigeria, Rappler in the Philippines, RTÉ in Ireland, and RFE/RL.