The editor of one of Russia’s leading independent newspapers, Novaya Gazeta, has won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The awards committee, based in Oslo, Norway, handed the prestigious prize to Dmitry Muratov, 59, editor-in-chief of the liberal paper, which focuses on reporting related to human rights, freedom of speech and other politically sensitive topics.
“Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions,” the Nobel Committee said during a presentation Friday.
Muratov said the prize was completely unexpected, and that he initially thought the incoming phone call, from a Norwegian number, was spam.
He said the prize is a recognition of the increasing pressure being placed on journalists inside Russia.
“Russian journalism is being suppressed right now. We will try to help people who are now recognized as ‘foreign agents’ and who are being attacked and expelled from the country,” he told the Podyom news site.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov congratulated Muratov as “courageous” and “brave,” in a statement following the announcement of the award.
Russia has launched a sweeping crackdown on independent media outlets over the last year, branding many “foreign agents” — a label critics say is designed to hamstring the ability of critical publications to continue operating.
Muratov won the award alongside journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines.
The Nobel Committee heralded the pair’s “courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and in Russia,” and said the award was intended to “underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights” of freedom of expression and freedom of information.
Muratov helped found Novaya Gazeta in 1993, was editor between 1995 and 2017, when he became the paper’s editor-in-chief. The outlet is one of the only independent print publications still in circulation in Russia, following what critics have called the Kremlin’s decades-long crackdown against freedom of expression inside the country.
A number of Novaya Gazeta journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova have been assassinated in murders believed to be linked to their work uncovering human rights abuses, particularly in Russia’s southern Chechnya region.