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Legacy of Samir Kassir lives on in 9th year of the award dedicated to his memory

BEIRUT | - June 03, 2014, 19h56
Par Sophie Spencer
The Samir Kassir prize for outstanding human rights journalism was awarded on Monday to three young journalists, following in the footsteps of the heroic Lebanese journalist, Samir Kassir, who found an untimely death 9 years ago.
On June 2, in a prestigious award ceremony held in the garden of the Sursock Palace by the EU in association with the Samir Kassir Foundation, three young journalists from the MENA region were awarded prizes of 10,000 euros for their outstanding human rights journalism.

The jury, made up of distinguished Arab journalists and journalists who have done considerable work in the MENA region, declared Mohamed Abo El-Gheit from Egypt, Hamene Zbiss from Tunisia and Orwa Mokdad from Syria as the winners in the opinion journalism, investigative journalism and audio-visual reporting categories respectively.

Mohamed Abo El-Gheit’s piece published for the Egyptian Al-Shorouk newspaper in January 2014 and entitled Season of the Living Dead, recalls the violent clashes that took place after the ousting of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in June last year. He equates the volte-face of the Egyptian people who once fought arm in arm with the Muslim Brotherhood against President Mubarak and who now support the interior ministry’s violent persecution of Brotherhood members to the token scene in any zombie movie; when the protagonist discovers his best friend, with whom he was fighting against the living dead, has turned into a zombie.

Hamene Zbiss recounts in her investigative piece entitled ‘Quranic Kindergartens in Tunisia: Breeding a Wahhabi Elite’ the worrying phenomenon of illegal Quranic playgroups in Tunisia. She went undercover as a trainee kindergarten teacher to document their damaging practices including the forcing of young children to sit still for endless hours of the day, reciting the Quran, before they have even learnt to write. She also examines the rise in popularity of these schools which commit serious human rights violations and which are a law unto themselves.

In the Syrian journalist, Orwa Mokdad’s audio visual report entitled ‘On Street’ he depicts the life of a group of Syrian musicians living in Beirut, their pain at leaving Syria and their joy at finding a place where they can express themselves, playing music on the streets of Beirut. The film, which is interspersed with footage of the musicians’ performance and personal interviews with them, promotes the message that music can be a weapon of resistance and that Syrians are fighting oppression simply by living their lives and playing the music they love.

The ceremony commemorates the 9th anniversary of Samir Kassir’s assassination. Infamous in life as well as in death, he was a regular critic of the Syrian regime’s interference in Lebanon, of the Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, and of confessional politics, himself believing in secularism as the only way forward for the state of Lebanon. His intrepid journalism and scholarship, including the publishing of a total of six books, focussing on the historical roots of Lebanon’s crisis, led to relentless persecution by security forces. However, Kassir never compromised his journalistic integrity up until his eventual assassination on June 2 2005, five months after the assassination of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.

Today Kassir’s legacy lives on. The Samir Kassir Foundation, founded after his death, strives to encourage and protect journalists working under strict censorship conditions in the Middle East, documenting human rights violations and governmental corruption. Kassir’s firm belief in Freedom of Expression as a necessity in the fight for a more equal society is being expressed through the work of an ever-increasing number of fearless young journalists. This year the Samir Kassir Award received more than 180 applications, its highest number so far.

As the tweets flowed in yesterday, to honour Kassir on the anniversary of his death, it is clear that people still find relevance in his work, reiterating his infamous quote ‘Political Liberalism can be conjugated in Arabic’.
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