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October 15, 1999
Reporter Wins 'Courage in Journalism' Award
Arthur J Pais in New York
Kim Bolan, the tenacious and gutsy reporter for the Vancouver Sun, who was given police protection following threats against her life by fundamentalist Sikhs, will receive one of this year's Courage in Journalism Awards.
This year, the International Women's Media Foundation recognized two other women for their bravery -- Sharifa Akhlas (for work done in Afghanistan and now in Pakistan) and Aferdita Kelmendi (Kosovo). All three reporters have faced serious threats to their lives.
The October 20 event will be held here at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The awards are given by the Washington-based IWMF, which will celebrate its 10th annual awards at the event.
The IWMF Courage in Journalism Award honors journalists who have demonstrated extraordinary qualities in pursuing their craft under difficult and often dangerous circumstances. The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression nominated Bolan for the award.
Early this year, Bolan also received the 1999 South Asian Journalists Association award for the best south Asian story in North America.
Scores of Sikhs had demonstrated outside the newspaper office many months ago complaining that she wrote distorted stories about the community. The death threats have been coming in since December 1997 by mail and by telephone. Punjabi-language radio shows ran many critical stories against her.
Bolan continues her reporting about the Indian community, but is now under police supervision, and is escorted on assignment. No group has claimed responsibility and some Sikhs even questioned the veracity of her claim.
"I have written extensively about the Indian community here, and I have always tried to be fair and balanced," Bolan had told rediff.com when she sought the police protection. "I have covered at great length community events and festivals in the Sikh community. It is not that I go out looking for crime stories."
The fundamentalists were angered at her stories about the murder of Tara Singh Hayer, the publisher of a Gurumukhi weekly. A former Khalistan supporter, Hayer turned against the militants and espoused moderation. He was confined to a wheel chair following an earlier attempt on his life; the second attack took his life about two years ago.
Bolan has written extensively on the Air India mid-air explosion in 1985 and the alleged fundamentalist connection with the terrorist attack.
"She has not faced exile or imprisonment," said John Cruickshank, the editor-in-chief of the Vancouver Sun. "She has been steely in the face of intimidation and threats against her life."
From the beginning of her career at the Vancouver Sun in 1984, she has focused on the Indo-Canadian community in Vancouver. Her coverage has led to critical breaks in the 1985 bombing of an Air India jet and a police investigation of a local independent Khalsa school whose leaders were considered suspects in the Air India bombing.
Bolan says that she plans to pursue the Air India case until charges are filed and to cover the trial.
Akhlas was born and educated in Afghanistan, but now works in exile as a radio and television producer and reporter for the Afghan Media Resource Center based in Peshawar, Pakistan. In 1992, when the Taliban began instituting bans on working women in Afghanistan, Akhlas began to work secretly for the AMRC, filing reports on human rights, children, women, and social issues. In order to avoid detection by the Taliban, she moved frequently.
After her reporting was discovered by the Taliban in 1998, she was arrested and beaten. To secure her release, her husband and father had to promise to keep her from reporting, or face arrest themselves. She subsequently escaped to Pakistan with her family, but still continues to move around to avoid detection. In her current work with the AMRC, she furtively travels back into Afghanistan, risking her life to interview women and bring news to the international community.
Kelmendi is co-founder of the Media Project and Director of Radio/TV 21, the only independent station in Pristina, Kosovo. In the span of a few days in March 1999, Kelmendi watched as her station was destroyed, found that a colleague had been killed, and learned she was on a hit list. She escaped from Kosovo with her family and initially went to a deportee camp in Macedonia. From there, the family relocated to Skopje, Macedonia where she re-established transmission and began broadcasting in exile.
But she wanted to go back "to help give people their voice back. I know we can start over even though we have nothing."
When the fighting subsided, Kelmendi returned to Pristina and on July 15, she began live radio transmissions and Radio 21 became the first Albanian-language radio station to broadcast from Kosovo.
IWMF was founded in 1990 to advance the role of women in the media throughout the world, based on the belief that no press is truly free unless women share an equal voice.
For more information on IWMF, the 1999 Courage In Journalism Awards, or this year's award recipients, contact Shelly Cryer at 212/665-0588; fax her at 212/663-6206 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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