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Personal Tragedy and Triumph in RFE/RL's Best of September

A photo from the Belarus Service's live-blog coverage of an aborted protest on September 9, 2013, honoring a man who died in a Minsk jail.
In September, the best stories from RFE/RL sought out people experiencing hardship and told their largely overlooked stories. From covering the efforts of a family in Minsk to draw attention to their relative’s mysterious death in police custody, to the heart breaking story of a family grieving over the unnecessary loss of their son in Iran, RFE/RL reported personal tragedy and triumph with thought and sensitivity in a way that was compelling even for audiences in far different circumstances.

News & Current Affairs

Belarusian Service -- "Live- blog Coverage of Aborted Demo Honoring Man Who Died in Minsk Jail"

The planned demonstration was a small but significant human rights action, launched by the friends and relatives of a young man who died in jail under suspicious circumstances after being arrested for driving with a suspended license. His friends and relatives believe he was beaten to death in jail and sought to hold a small public vigil in his honor, but they were arrested – along with the journalists accompanying them – almost immediately. Normally, this kind of squashed civil action would go unnoticed by the public, but through the hard work and dedication of RFE/RL’s Belarusian Service, as documented in its live-blog coverage of the protest, the brutality was brought to light.

It can be difficult to make a small-scale protest that was quelled before it ever really began seem “newsworthy,” but the Service was able to provide profound context and help its audience realize the significance of such abuse of power. To do so, the Service used the blog to put the audience right next to the organizers and let them experience the protest from start to finish. In this way, the audience was able to experience the same emotions and suspense as those attending the the event in Minsk. To complete the coverage, the Service offered a video testimony by the young man’s sister and a photo gallery of the march.

The work of the Belarus Service made visible that which authoritarian governments do their best to keep invisible.

Feature/Feature-length Coverage

Radio Farda -- “The Execution Game”

“The Execution Game” tells the sad story of a 12-year-old boy who unintentionally killed himself as he and his brother re-enacted a public execution as a game. The boys knew what public executions are because public executions are no rarity in Iran, and children are not forbidden to watch them. No one can say what children think when they see a public hanging, but in this boy’s case, he seemed to think it was a kind of theater -- and thus an inspiration for the game.

To tell the story, Radio Farda talked to a journalist in Iran who works for another news service and had travelled to the village immediately after the boy’s death to talk with the boy’s parents and relatives. Farda conveyed the incomprehension and grief the boy’s death caused, despite the service’s inability to be on the ground itself (Iranian authorities do not allow Radio Farda to work officially in Iran). The service also spoke to two child psychologists about how witnessing public violence can destabilize children and can often lead them to become desensitized to violent behavior as adults.

LISTEN: An excerpt from Radio Farda's "The Execution Game."
The Execution Game
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Video/Multimedia Two Winners

Tatar-Baskhir Service -- "A Story of Hard Work, Spiritual Struggle and True Love"

Belarusian Service -- "World Without Sound"

"A Story of Hard Work, Spiritual Struggle and True Love" is an emotion-filled human-interest story produced by Ildar Gabidullin, a Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow in the Tatar-Bashkir Service. The video tells the story of Fannur Khamitov, a welder by profession, whose limbs were amputated as a result of a workplace accident in in Siberia two decades ago. Khamitov’s lifetime partner, Madina not only helped him through the hardships of rehabilitation, but also dedicated poems to her husband. An inspiring story of perseverance and triumph over adversity.

"A Story of Hard Work, Spiritual Struggle and True Love" (excerpt).

"A Story of Hard Work, Spiritual Struggle and True Love"
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"World Without Sound" is a multimedia project produced by the Belarusian Service to coincide with the International Week of the Deaf in September. The project includes a video component, a photo gallery, audio and text. The video focuses on the challenges, hopes, and triumphs experienced by a Belarusian hearing-impaired mother and her similarly impaired son. The photos show members of a hearing-impaired family demonstrating in sign language such words as “mother,” “father,” “democracy,” and “Belarus. “

Special Project

Radio Farda -- "Summer 1988: 25 Years Later"

"Summer 1988: 25 Years Later," a special project produced by Radio Farda, retells the story of the mass killing of Iran’s political prisoners 25 years ago that was virtually unnoticed by the outside world -- and kept secret inside the country. The killings were never investigated, and human rights activists believe Iranian authorities still want to erase the memory of this event.

Radio Farda gave political prisoners who survived and relatives of the victims a forum to speak about the events of a quarter century ago and interviewed former senior members of the Iranian leadership -- many of whom spoke for the first time on the record about their experiences. One activist lost six members of his family during the terror; other families were kept in the dark about the fate of their loved ones and did not know until this story was released where they were buried. Some of them have since been persecuted by the authorities and continue to endure the consequences of the massacre. Thousands of website viewers and radio listeners shared and commented on the project.


"Gay Man In Russia Apparently Raped By Vigilantes On Video" by Alisher Sidikov of the Uzbek Service and Claire Bigg of Central News

Uzbek Service Director Alisher Sidikov happened on a disturbing video circulating on social media, showing a man being raped with a bottle -- one of several similar clips circulating on the mobile-phone application WhatsApp. The incident, in which the victim, who seems to be an ethnic Uzbek, is bullied into confessing that he is gay, appeared to be the latest assault on Russia's beleaguered homosexual community.

Sidikov carefully and professionally reported the story, eventually tracking down a man who claimed to have taken part in the attack. The Uzbek-speaking source, speaking from Russia, confirmed that the victim was targeted because he is gay.

The English-language story, written by Sidikov and Claire Bigg of Central News, received more than 4,000 Facebook recommendations, shedding light on a very important human rights issue. This is an excellent example of investigative journalism and journalistic collaboration.

Award For Courage In Reporting:

Umar Daraz Wazir of Radio Mashaal for his video report on violent protests by students of Bannu college.

Wazir in the fray during violent protests
Radio Mashaal Lauded For Courage In Journalism
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In our lives as journalists, we sometimes face situations when there is no time to think--when you need to act. On September 25, Umar Daraz Wazir of Radio Mashaal found himself in just such a situation. Violence broke out while Wazir reported on student protests in Bannu, a city in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, over the sale of land previously earmarked for student housing. Instead of fleeing the scene as both the protesters and counter demonstrators began shooting at each other, Wazir switched on his smartphone camera and brought Radio Mashaal web viewers exclusive, dramatic footage of the shooting scene.

-- Zydrone Krasauskiene