As part of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the OPC is collecting and sharing the names of press freedom heroes and celebrating their work. We begin with a look back at last week’s candle lighting at the OPC Annual Awards Dinner. OPC members have been lauding the achievements of #PressFreedomHeroes – please name your heroes and add the hashtag!

Past OPC President Larry Martz saluted Babafemi Ojudu as a press freedom hero.

“When I was editor of the monthly World Press Review back in 1998, Babafemi Ojudu was our stringer in Nigeria, charged with calling to our attention stories in the regional press that we could translate and reprint in our uphill struggle to persuade American readers that there was news out there, and more than one points of view about it.

Femi was managing editor of The News/Tempo/PM News group of publications, which had been running a courageous campaign to expose the excesses of the regime of the dictator Sani Abacha. Femi spoke in Nairobi to a meeting of the Freedom Forum’s Africa Media Forum in November, 1997, and on the way home he was arrested and thrown into solitary confinement in the notorious Ikoyi prison. No charges were filed against him. After two months, he managed to smuggle out a letter to a friend, who passed it on.

“I am still in the dungeon here,” Femi wrote. “You will not believe that they have not even allowed me a change of dress or underwear since I was abducted. Neither will they allow me a toothbrush . . . Food is passed to me like a caged lion.” He slept on the bare cement floor of his cell. Once in a while he was allowed to slosh himself with a bucket of water.

Femi was one of at least seven journalists of The News group who were arrested during this period, and as a member of the OPC’s Freedom of the Press Commitee, I wrote letters to Abacha protesting their treatment. Months later, after Abacha died, Femi was released by the new strongman – turned out of the prison gate in the dead of night, still in what remained of the clothes he had been wearing when arrested, without money. He stood in the road, filthy, gaunt and ragged, trying to flag down passing cars. After two hours a compassionate driver picked him up, listened to his story, and drove him home. He was given an International Press Freedom award from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and I finally had the pleasure of meeting him when he came through New York to accept it.

But it is the end of his letter from Ikoyi, when he had no hint that he would ever be free again, that makes him my press freedom hero. “Worry not for me,” he wrote. “My spirit remains unbound and my head unbowed . . . . I know that one day I will again be part of the free world. Even if they kill me, I will take solace in having died for the cause of freedom.”

I retired from World Press Review in 1999, and the magazine has since died. I’ve lost touch with Femi, but I won’t forget him.”


Do you know a press freedom hero that you would like to celebrate? Perhaps you have worked with a fixer or local journalist who deserves credit for the risks they take? A mentor or colleague who made an exceptional stand for press freedom? Please send us a name, a social media handle, or even a pseudonym if the hero needs anonymity, and a few words about why they deserve plaudits for press freedom. This is not a contest or prize, and we welcome multiple nominations. Let’s sing about the unsung! Respond here or just send a tweet using the hashtag #PressFreedomHero, and we will share and re-share your nominations.