The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia for their “courageous fight” to safeguard freedom of expression.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said on Friday that the prize recognised the pair as “representatives of all journalists . . . in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions”.
Ressa is co-founder and chief executive of Rappler, a Philippine news website. Launched in 2012, it has been the target of multiple ongoing criminal prosecutions by authorities in the south-east Asian nation.
The former CNN journalist led reporting on Rodrigo Duterte’s populist presidency, including coverage of his anti-narcotics campaign, which the International Criminal Court is investigating for suspected crimes against humanity.
Ressa and other Rappler executives have been charged with multiple crimes, including tax evasion, fraud and “cyber libel” in what freedom of expression advocates describe as targeted harassment. She has emerged as a global symbol of the free press under siege from illiberal politicians.
“It’s like waking up to climb Mount Everest,” Ressa told the Financial Times in 2019. “It looks really hard and painful, maybe you won’t make it up, but if you don’t try, you’ll never make it up.”
Ressa, who holds Filipino and US nationality, has also been a vocal critic of social media groups such as Facebook, accusing the platforms of enabling “information warfare” in the Philippines.
She has shown herself “a fairness defender”, the Nobel committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said on Friday, notably for her reporting on Duterte’s “controversial and murderous anti-drug campaign”.
The committee chair hailed the co-winner Muratov, who for “decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions”.
Muratov co-founded the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in 1993, which persisted with its investigative reporting even as President Vladimir Putin began to tighten the noose on the press after he came to power six years later.
Six of its reporters have been killed since 2000, most prominently among them Anna Politkovskaya, known for her searing criticism of Russia’s wars in Chechnya and Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman picked by the Kremlin to run the province.
More recently, Novaya Gazeta has published hard-hitting coverage of Russia’s proxy conflict in Ukraine as well as social and environmental issues.
“I didn’t deserve this. Novaya Gazeta did. Those who died defending people’s right to freedom of speech did. Since they’re not with us, they must have decided I needed to tell everyone,” Muratov told news agency Tass. He said he would donate some of the proceeds of his prize money to a Putin-founded charity for children with rare diseases.
The Kremlin congratulated Muratov on Friday. “He works consistently and he’s dedicated to his ideals. He’s talented and brave. And, of course, this is high recognition. We congratulate him,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
The newspaper is the only remaining major independent media outlet not named a “foreign agent” under a highly restrictive new law that has forced some news outlets to shut down and prompted several journalists to leave the country.
The two journalists will share the SKr10m ($1.1m) award given by the Norwegian body.