President Obama recently honored journalists who were harassed and even beaten or incarcerated by their home countries. What was their crime? Sharing information and ideas that their governments would prefer to keep in the dark.

“Journalists give all of us, as citizens, the chance to know the truth about our countries, ourselves, our governments. That makes us better. It makes us stronger. It gives voice to the voiceless, exposes injustice, and holds leaders like me accountable,” the president said May 1.

Obama was joined by journalists Fatima Tlisova, Dieu Cay, and Lily Mengesha. “All three have been detained or harassed in the past.  All three have sought refuge here in the United States.  And we welcome them so that they can continue their important work,” he said.

  • Fatima Tlisova, from Russia, was attacked, kidnapped and tortured after reporting on military operations in the North Caucasus region, disappearances and corruption. Her investigative journalism covered Circassian nationalism, the role of Islam in regional affairs and human rights abuses in the North Caucasus. Today, she works for the Voice of America (VOA).
  • Nguyen Van Hai, commonly known by his pen name Dieu Cay, spent six years in a Vietnamese prison on politically motivated charges. His blog addressed human rights and corruption in Vietnam, including sensitive topics like land rights, religious freedom and Vietnam’s policy toward China. He now lives in Los Angeles.
  • Simegnish “Lily” Mengesha, from Ethiopia, advocated for a free press. Mengesha was harassed and detained after she criticized the arrest of the independent Zone 9 bloggers. Her reporting also exposed the suffering of Ethiopian child brides. After enduring increased intimidation and surveillance, she left Ethiopia in July 2014 and now works at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Obama said the United States regularly engages other governments on press freedom. The president added that “being able to express yourself and your conscience without danger is a human right, a universal right, and ultimately makes the world better and stronger when individual conscience and a press that is free is allowed to function.”