Award honours slain journalist’s courage to ‘write and fight’

MUMBAI: Two fearless Asian women who have risked their lives campaigning against religious extremism — one of whom was murdered last month — won a joint award on Thursday for their common courage.
Gauri Lankesh, 55, an outspoken Indian newspaper editor, was shot dead outside her home by unidentified assailants in the southern city of Bengaluru, at a time of rising nationalism and intolerance of dissent in the country. “This award is a morale booster for people who want to write, and fight,” Lankesh’s sister, Kavitha, said by phone. “It honours what Gauri stood for — that you cannot silence me.”
Lankesh shared the annual Reach All Women in WAR (RAW in WAR) Anna Politkovskaya Award with Gulalai Ismail, 31, a peace activist who has faced death threats for speaking out against the Taliban in northwest Pakistan. Lankesh, the editor and publisher of a weekly Indian tabloid, was a staunch critic of right-wing, political ideology.
Nearly 2,414 km away in Pakistan’s northern city of Peshawar, co-winner Ismail said she felt numb with grief when she heard about Landesh’s murder.
“It was heartbreaking that an advocate of democracy, a courageous voice was silenced,” she said by phone from Peshawar. “This award recognises our common struggle and courage.”
Ismail co-founded the advocacy group Aware Girls when she was 16 to challenge violence and oppression of women in northwest Pakistan. She also trains young peace activists in democracy to counter militant radicalisation.
Ismail has been threatened with violence on social media, for speaking out against extremism and accused of atheism. “My home has been attacked twice,” she said, describing how four armed gunmen tried to force their way into her home when she was delayed at the airport. “I have been branded a traitor.”
The award marks the 11th anniversary of the killing of Politkovskaya, a Russian investigative reporter who uncovered state corruption and rights abuses, especially in Chechnya.
She was shot dead in the lobby of her Moscow apartment block at the age of 48 on October 7, 2006.
RAW in WAR, a London-based, non-governmental organisation supporting women human rights defenders and victims of war, also honoured Rohingya refugee Jamalida Begum who spoke out publicly about her rape by Myanmar security forces.
—Thomson Reuters Foundation