BEIRUT – The World Association of Newspapers on Sunday awarded the Gibran Tueni prize, named after the martyr MP and newsman, to a Lebanese journalist for writings focused on the freedom of expression. The award went to Michel Hajji Georgiou, senior political analyst at the French-language daily L’orient-le-jour, at a ceremony ahead of the second anniversary of Tueni’s assassination.

The coming second anniversary of the assassination of journalist and MP Gebran Tueni was commemorated on Sunday with the announcement of this year’s Gebran Tueni Award at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center. The ceremony was marked by a series of passionate and often emotional speeches given by members of the Tueni family, although the highlight of Sunday’s event was singer Majida al-Roumi’s riveting speech "Enough," which prompted a standing ovation from the audience of roughly 1,500.  "Are we not all Lebanese? Did all those who fought in the North and South, did they not all fight because they are Lebanese?" asked Roumi. She was referring to the soldiers of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) who died in the three-month conflict this year against Fatah al-Islam militants at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in North Lebanon, as well as the Hizbullah fighters who died in the summer 2006 war with Israel. "Many may criticize me for expressing my thoughts on politics here today, but I do not care," she said. "I am here today to say: enough." "We are the ones who have to die for everyone else’s causes and everyone else’s wars," added Roumi.

She said she was frustrated with the ongoing political turbulence in Lebanon. Roumi mentioned Gebran’s legacy and said his sacrifices should not be wasted or forgotten. Her speech moved many in the audience to tears.

Tueni’s daughter Nayla said it was crucial to preserve the principles and causes her father fought for before he was killed. "Gebran would have never surrendered his fight for freedom and sovereignty," she said.

Addressing all the youth of Lebanon and particularly the writers of Nahar al-Shabab, she said change and reform were what Gebran lived by, and that the youth must revive these two concepts in order to bring about democracy in Lebanon.

"Lebanese youth should aspire to have a president who believes in democracy and freedom, because they are the base of Lebanon’s overall makeup," she added. "Without freedom, Lebanon cannot exist."

Her speech focused on the theme of this year’s ceremony, which was titled "The Youth and the Challenge of Reform." The theme reflected Gebran Tueni’s numerous initiatives to help Lebanon’s youth through the organization he founded in 1993, Nahar ash-Shabab.

Aline Farah, one of the original members of Nahar ash-Shabab, spoke to Tueni in her speech, saying "You were a true mentor to the Lebanese youth. You taught us courage and self confidence. You acted as a role model to not just us, but to a large portion of the youth in Lebanon, and we thank you."

Legal expert Ziad Baroud also addressed Tueni’s emphasis on the younger generation, saying the late MP had encouraged youth to take responsibility by "chanelling their energy" into worthwhile pursuits.

MP Ghassan Tueni, Gebran’s father and the publisher of An-Nahar, addressed the country’s political crisis in his speech, as he welcomed LAF commander and presumptive consensus president General Michel Suleiman. The country’s pro-government and opposition camps have spent months negotiating to find a consensus presidential candidate, and signs point toward Suleiman’s election in Parliament as early as Tuesday.

Tueni also talked about journalism and independence, saying he cherished the importance of the word for all the changes it could instigate. An-Nahar, through its words and articles, has contributed to building independence, he added.

"You don’t give or take independence, you build independence," he said. "Independence is built day by day."

Georgiou, a senior political analyst at Lebanon’s French-language newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour, accepted the Gebran Tueni Award from Thomas Brunegard, WAN vice president and CEO of the Stampen Group in Sweden. Georgiou was chosen by WAN representatives and the Tueni family for the award, which strives to continue Gebran’s legacy of encouraging freedom of the press in Lebanon and the Arab region. Tueni was a member of WAN, serving on its press freedom committee for about 20 years.

Brunegard said "by extending the Gebran Tueni Award to Georgiou today, WAN wishes to acknowledge his commitment to press freedom and his determination to defend independent journalism in Lebanon. In his articles and editorials, Mr. Georgiou has demonstrated a firm commitment to human rights, public and individual freedoms and human dignity."

Georgiou dedicated the award to his colleges at L’Orient-Le Jour and to jailed Syrian journalist Michel Kilo, who continues to be held in a Syrian prison for signing a petition opposing political assassinations as a means to ending political differences. The award includes a 10,000-euro stipend, which gives Georgiou the opportunity to participate in a newspaper leadership training program offered through An-Nahar.

Journalist Rami Shaer also summed up Tueni’s legacy in his speech saying: "I am asked to summarize Gebran in two minutes … It is as if one is trying to hold the sun in his hand our pour the sea into a cup. Gebran is an Orthodox in his faith, a Maronite in his patriotism, a Shiite in his philosophy, a Sunni in his leadership, a Catholic in his humanity, a Druze in his courage, an Armenian in his creativity, and a Lebanese in his sense of belonging."

The newspaper magnate was killed on December 12, 2005 in a massive car bomb attack blamed on Syria, Damascus has denied any involvement. "In his articles and editorials, Mr. Hajji Georgiou has demonstrated a firm commitment to human rights, public and individual freedoms and human dignity," World Association of Newspapers vice president Thomas Brunegard said. Brunegard also praised L’Orient-Le Jour, calling it "a major contributor to the intellectual and political debate in Lebanon, bringing balanced and insightful perspectives as well as taking bold editorial stands."