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Syrian journalist, Turkish paper win French media freedom prizes

Reporters Without Borders gives award to Aleppo-based Zaina Erhaim, who has trained around 100 Syrian journalists, a third of them women
Participants of a demonstration organised by Reporters Without Borders demand freedom of press prior to the arrival of the Egyptian President in front of the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on 3 June 2015 (AFP)

A Syrian journalist who lives and works in the war-scarred city of Aleppo was awarded the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Prize in France on Tuesday for her defence of press freedom.

The Paris-based media rights group singled out Zaina Erhaim for her "determination and courage" in covering the conflict in Syria, which is deemed the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

Over the past two years Erhaim has trained around a hundred print and television journalists, a third of them women. Her efforts have led to the emergence of a number of independent newspapers and magazines.

Her uncle accepted the prize on her behalf at a ceremony in the French city of Strasbourg.

“Zaina Erhaim is a force multiplier of journalistic values in a country torn by violence and irrationality,” RSF said in an August press release “We salute her courage, upholding professional ethics and bringing them to the service of those left to write history.”

Reporters without Borders (RSF) also honoured centre-left Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, which won the watchdog's Media of the Year prize for its "independent and courageous journalism".

In May, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan brought a criminal complaint against the paper for publishing a video it said showed a convoy of vehicles bound for Syria with weapons supplied by the Turkish intelligence agency.

Erdogan vowed the paper's editor-in-chief would pay "a heavy price" for the report which raised questions about Turkey's involvement in the Syrian conflict.

“The Turkish government’s Syria policy is an important topic that the Turkish public must be able to debate," RSF said in a statement in June.

"The public has a right to know whether its government has delivered arms, and to whom. If the government now finds itself with its back to the wall, it cannot blame Cumhuriyet, which just did its job.”

The paper was also the first in the Muslim world to reprint parts of the first Charlie Hebdo issue - featuring a controversial cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad - released after January's deadly Islamist attacks on the French satirical magazine in Paris

RSF's Citizen Journalist of the Year award went to Zone 9, an Ethiopian bloggers' collective that regularly denounces rights abuses in the east African country.