Celebrating courage in journalism was the theme of the 2021 IPI World Congress award ceremony. At a special gathering at Vienna’s Haus der Musik, Belarusian editor and media manager Yuliya Slutskaya was honoured with the 2021 World Press Freedom Hero award, while Indian news site The Wire was recognized as the 2021 Free Media Pioneer. Both awards are presented annually by IPI in partnership with International Media Support (IMS).

The evening kicked off with a video address by Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, who underscored that “independent reporting by journalists and free media are keystones of any democratic state”. With a nod to the Hero award, he condemned the media situation in Belarus, noting that “media freedom is being systematically suppressed and practically eliminated”. Schallenberg said Austria demanded the “immediate release” of all jailed journalists in Belarus and “an end to the repression”.

The Hero award was presented by Mexican investigative journalist Lydia Cacho, who was herself named an IPI World Press Freedom Hero in 2010. Cacho was unable to come to Vienna to receive the award at that time. This year, she took the stage to honour Slutskaya, who was jailed for eight months by the Lukashenko regime on trumped-up tax charges. Slutskaya is the founder and chairperson of Press Club Belarus, considered a “crucible for professional journalism” in the former Soviet republic.

As Slutskaya was unable to travel to Vienna, the award was accepted on her behalf by Anton Ruliou, project coordinator at the Belarus in Focus Information Office. In remarks delivered by Ruliou, Slutskaya told the Congress: “I am very grateful to you for appreciating my contribution to the promotion of the values of freedom of speech so highly. However, I ask you not to forget that this contribution is based on the dedicated work of Press Club Belarus’ entire team and hundreds of Belarusian journalists who despite very difficult conditions remain true to these values. I also say thank you for continuing to keep Belarus in the focus of the world media. This alone gives us hope that I will soon be able to hug all my colleagues who are still behind bars.”

IPI and IMS representatives joined Ruliou in reading out the names of 28 journalists who remained behind bars in Belarus, calling for their immediate freedom.

The Free Media Pioneer award was presented by Gulnara Akhundova, head of department for global response at IMS. This year’s recipient, The Wire, is a leader in India’s digital news revolution and an unflinching defender of independent, high-quality journalism. The Wire is also on the front lines of India’s troubling press freedom decline, having been targeted with numerous legal cases in retaliation for its work. On hand to accept the award for The Wire were Siddharth Varadarajan, one of the site’s founding editors, as well as National Affairs Editor Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty.

“Colleagues, this award that you have granted to The Wire today is a shot in the arm for not just ourselves but for independent media in India”, Varadarajan said at the ceremony. “Because if there is one thing that counts more than anything else in these troubled times, it is the respect and support of one’s peers and the solidarity that they show at moments of crisis.” (Read the full text of Varadarajan’s remarks.)

Read more about the 2021 award winners:

Profile of Yuliya Slutskaya

IPI interview with Slutskaya after her release from prison

Profile of The Wire