Chinese Journalist, Environmental Lawyer Win Ramon Magsaysay Award

Hu Shuli (1st L) and Wang Canfa (2nd R) are among the winners of the Ramon Magsaysay Award. Photo courtesy of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation
An investigative journalist specializing in high-level corruption and a rights lawyer from China, which has recently stepped up controls on both professions, are among the winners of a regional prize aimed at promoting integrity in government.

Journalist and current affairs commentator Hu Shuli is among seven regional journalists and activists named as recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award 2014, the organization said in a statement on its website.

Hu's award is in recognition of "her unrelenting commitment to truthful, relevant, and unassailable journalism, her fearless promotion of transparency and accountability in business and public governance, and her leadership in blazing the way for more professional and independent-minded media practices in China," the statement said.

Meanwhile, public interest lawyer and environmental law expert Wang Canfa, is being given the award for "his discerning and forceful leadership—through scholarly work, disciplined advocacy, and pro bono public interest litigation," the awarding body said.

Wang has ensured "that the enlightened and competent practice of environmental law in China effectively protects the rights and lives of victims of environmental abuse, especially the poor and the powerless," it said.

Courageous journalist

Jiang Weiping, a Canada-based political analyst and former journalist with the official Xinhua news agency, said Hu's award came as no surprise to him.

"It was Hu Shuli's magazine that first broke the story of Zhou Yongkang's investigation for corruption," Jiang said, in reference to the investigation of China's former security czar for "serious breaches of discipline" that was announced months after Hu's report.

"She's not just courageous; her reports are extremely accurate, and provide the reader with large volumes of reliable information," he said.

"I often read her magazine and articles she has written personally."

Editorial approval

Last month, President Xi Jinping's administration warned journalists not to publish critical reports without prior approval from their editors, and issued new rules requiring them to sign non-disclosure agreements this month.

Chinese media organizations can only operate under a government-granted license, giving officials a huge amount of leverage over who works and publishes within the industry.

Editorial staff are given daily direction on how to respond to certain major news stories via directives and phone calls from the party's powerful but secretive propaganda department, which are themselves often leaked to overseas media.

Jiang said Hu's specialty was in cutting-edge reporting that goes where most Chinese journalists would fear to tread.

"She is fearless when it comes to threats and pressure from the political elite, and she has helped steer journalism in China in the right direction," Jiang added.

He said Hu is believed to be close to reform-minded ruling Chinese Communist Party graft-buster Wang Qishan, who protects her politically and enables her to access first-hand information on corruption investigations.

Pro bono lawyer

Wang Canfa's award was welcomed by Jiangsu-based environmental activist Wu Lihong.

In 1999, Wang set up a legal advice center specializing in the victims of pollution, that had helped large numbers of claimants to sue the government free of charge.

Within five years, the center had fought more than 70 cases on behalf of some 20,000 people.

Wu said Wang was known for winning a higher-than-usual proportion of cases.

"For example, he helped duck farmers in Jiangsu's Xuzhou city win compensation [in a pollution claim]," Wu said.

"Another case was that of environmental activist Zhang Changjian in Fujian province," he added. "Zhang had been petitioning for years on behalf of local people, before Wang Canfa helped him win a lawsuit."

Pollution issue

Campaigners say that China already has an exemplary set of environmental protection laws, but that close ties between business and officials mean that it is rarely enforced at a local level.

Wu said Wang's legal advice center had a habit of challenging vested interests and protectionism between industry and local government.

"But after that, there was a very strong backlash from the political connections of the polluting enterprise, and the pollution issue in Zhang Changjian's village never was settled satisfactorily," Wu said.

Other 2014 award winners include Indonesian and Philippines indigenous rights activists Saur Marlina Manurung and Randy Halasan, Afghan heritage campaigner Omara Khan Masoudi, and Pakistani educational charity The Citizens Foundation.

Reported by Gao Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Feng Ziyu for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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