Motaz Azaïza (© Pierre Galliot – Région Normandie) 2


On Tuesday, June 4, Motaz Azaïza, a Palestinian photo-journalist who covered the conflict in the heart of Gaza, received the 2024 Freedom Prize at the Zénith in Caen for his commitment to press freedom and the right to information.

Motaz Azaïza is a young Palestinian journalist covering the conflict in the heart of Gaza. His campaign for the right to information allowed to disseminate information about the conflict and has shed light on the fate of the people affected by this war. Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ongoing since the mid-20th century, has intensified since October 7, 2023 with the coordinated attack by Hamas in Israel. In response to this terrorist attack, the Israeli government decided to impose a blockade on the Gaza Strip as well as military operations.

His coverage of the conflict from the Gaza Strip earned him the GQ Middle East Man of the Year award in 2023 and he was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in 2024. In January 2024, he left Gaza for Qatar following the interruption of communications decreed by Israel, where he continued his commitment to press freedom and the protection of journalists.

Motaz Azaïza was nominated as the winner following a vote by 14,265 young people from 116 countries from 20 March to 30 April 2024, on the Freedom Prize website.

 Freedom of speech should be a basic right for every human, yet in today’s world, we are not only fighting for the freedom of press, but for the protection of journalists. I’m from Gaza, I’m a genocide survivor, I could have been dead right now. In Gaza during the war, I thought that any moment could be my last. And many times, it almost was. I should be thankful that I survived, but it is impossible to feel happy when tens of thousands did not survive including my family members and friends. And many more are still being killed and injured by Israeli strikes as we speak and thousands remain under the rubble. Collectively, we all have a duty to do much more to protect and support journalists still on the ground – risking their lives to continue telling the truth. We all have a moral duty to do what’s just, to stand on the right side of history and to advocate for; freedom of speech, freedom of press and the freedom of Palestinedeclares Motaz Azaïza.

The two other nominees were: Noura Ghazi, a Syrian lawyer defending the rights of political prisoners and

Maria Kolesnikova, a leading figure in the Belarusian opposition.

Noura Ghazi: At the age of 5, Noura Ghazi saw her father arrested in Syria for his opposition to the Syrian authoritarian regime. This arrest was the catalyst for her to become a lawyer, defending the rights of political prisoners. She created the non governmental organisation, No Photo Zone, which works to promote human rights and shed light on forced disappearances and detention situations.

 Maria Kolesnikova : Graduated from the State Academy of Music as a flautist and conductor, Maria Kolesnikova is a leading figure in the Belarusian opposition, committed to opposing the political oppression imposed by Alexander Lukashenko. Maria Kolesnikova was sentenced to 11 years in prison after a closed trial.

 Bertrand Deniaud, Vice-President of the Normandy Region in charge of High Schools and Education, highlights the growing success of the Freedom Prize: “Each year, we receive more and more applications for the Freedom Prize, whether to join the international jury or to propose candidates. The Freedom Prize now reaches many countries, more than 115, thanks in particular to the educational actions carried out throughout the year by the Normandy Region supported by the International Institute for Human Rights and Peace. We are delighted with the enthusiasm of all these young people to help those whose struggles are dear to them and who freely show us what their concerns are. This prize is theirs, and we are proud and impressed by their maturity and concern for others. They confirm our desire to make them reflect and participate in the defense of freedom without delay. In this year of the 80th anniversary of the D-Day, having designated a war reporter is all the more significant and once again shows their desire to shine a light on press freedom to enlighten the populations and thus ensure their freedom of judgment on an extremely sensitive conflict.

 Patrick Chauvel, President of the 2024 Freedom Prize jury: “This Freedom Prize is the price of truth. It aims to reward people who fight against silence, sometimes in the shadows. This award highlights all these struggles. Journalists, dissidents, all those who fight against human rights violations are precisely in search of this truth. But this is also the case for the the twenty-four young people on the international jury for the Freedom Prize, through the tremendous commitment, questioning and reflection that drove them throughout the week of deliberations. The Freedom Prize is an award that highlights people who need it. That gives them courage, even to the most well-known.”

 « In an international context of crises and systemic change, we are measuring the risk of freedom regressions at stake, impacting the existing rights. At the International Institute for Human Rights and Peace, our actions, as the Freedom Prize program, puts human dignity at its very core, as a shared responsibility, to empower respect, solidarity and human essential values around universal rights, by raising awareness through knowledge and bridges between cultures. » Fiona Schnell, CEO, International Institute for Human rights and Peace

 I come back to Normandy since 2007 and I’m still very impressed to see how normans are extremely grateful; even young generations have been educated by their parents. People are always enthusiastic and grateful to be able to thank us. I hope this enthusiasm will last over the years and I do hope people will never forget the sacrifice of our comrades who are in the cemeteries in Normandy.” Charles Norman Shay, Freedom Prize Ambassador and Native American veteran who landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

 On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the Best Defense Foundation is accompanying fifty World War II veterans to Normandy. The veterans arrived in Deauville on a plane specially chartered by Delta Airlines. This morning, they paid their respects at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, at the graves of their fallen comrades.

Vétérans américains (© Pierre Galliot – Région Normandie)

The Ceremony took place in the presence of:

  • Motaz Azaiza, Winner of the Freedom Prize 2024

  • Noura Ghazi and Tatsiana Khomich, sister of Maria Kolesnikova. Noura Ghazi and Maria Kolesnikova (jailed), were the two other nominees of the 2024 Freedom Prize

  • Bertrand Deniaud, Vice-President of the Normandy Region, in charge of High schools and education

  • Nicole Ameline, President of the International Institute of the Human Rights and Peace

  • The 2024 Freedom Prize international jury (24 Members) and Patrick Chauvel, president of the jury and renowned war reporter.

  • 4,000 high school students from Normandy, the United States and Germany

  • Several personalities including Nicole Ameline, President of the International Institute of the Human Rights and Peace, Charles Norman Shay, a Native American veteran who landed on the Omaha Beach on June 6 1944, and amabassador of the Freedom Prize, 53 American World War II veterans.

 Motaz Azaïza received the Freedom Prize trophy, crafted by students from the bookbinding and gilding art programme at Paul Cornu in Lisieux High School, as well as a check for 25,000 euros to support his commitment to press freedom and right to information.

 This trophy, made of marine leather, olive wood, and steel, features three waves, referencing the Normandy coast and the D-Day landings, surrounding and protecting a golden sphere that represents Freedom.

 The Freedom Prize was created in 2019 by the Region of Normandy in partnership with the International Institute for Human Rights and Peace, the Normandy Academic Authorities, and the Canopé Network to honor each year a person or an organisation engaged in a recent fight for freedom.

 The young people awarded the Freedom Prize in 2019 to the young Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, for her fight for climate justice. In 2020, the Freedom Prize was awarded to Loujain Al Hathloul, who was released from prison on 10th February 2021 after 1,001 days of detention in Saudi Arabia as a result of her fight for women’s rights in her country. In 2021, the young Afghan rapper, Sonita Alizada, received the Freedom Prize for her struggle against the forced marriage of young girls. In 2022, the association, Child’s Right and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN), won the Freedom Prize for its medico-social, humanitarian and psychological support to street children, who are discriminated against because they are alleged to have evil powers. Then, in 2023, the Club of Young Girls Leaders of Guinea, represented by Hadja Idrissa Bah, was named winner of the Freedom Prize for its fight against forced marriages and mutilations.