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Nobel Peace Prize awarded to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov

The Nobel Peace Prize was on Friday awarded to journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia for their fight for freedom of expression in their countries.

The pair were honoured "for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace," said the chairwoman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen.

"They are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions," she said.

Ressa, 58, told Norwegian TV2 she was "shocked" and "emotional" to receive the honour, which she said would give her and her colleagues "tremendous energy to continue the fight."

In 2012, Ressa co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism, which she still heads, while Muratov is one of the founders of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

Rappler has "focused critical attention on the Duterte regime's controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign," Reiss-Andersen said.

"The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country's own population," Reiss-Andersen said.

Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.

Ressa, a former CNN correspondent who also holds US citizenship, is currently on bail pending an appeal against a conviction last year in a cyber libel case, for which she faces up to six years in prison.

Muratov, 59, has defended freedom of speech in Russia for decades, under increasingly challenging conditions.

In 1993, he was a founder of Novaya Gazeta, which has a "fundamentally critical attitude towards power" the committee said. He has been its editor-in-chief since 1995.

Killings and Threats

Novaya Gazeta's opponents have responded with harassment, threats, violence and murder.

Since the newspaper's start, six of its journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaya who wrote revealing articles on the war in Chechnya.

"Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper's independent policy," Reiss-Andersen said.

"He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism."

Free, independent and fact-based journalism helps protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda, Reiss-Andersen said.

"Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time," Reiss-Andersen said.

Media watchdogs had been tipped as contenders for the prestigious prize ahead of Friday's announcement.

Last year, the honour went to the UN's humanitarian agency fighting famine, the World Food Programme (WFP).

The award's image has been hit hard over the past years as one of its previous laureates, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, became embroiled in a war.

Another, Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, was accused of defending the massacre of members of the Rohingya minority.

The prize — consisting of a diploma, a gold medal and a cheque for 10 million kronor (980,000 euros, $1.1 million) — is traditionally awarded on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of prize creator Alfred Nobel.

The Peace Prize is the only Nobel to be awarded in the Norwegian capital.

However, it is not yet known whether Ressa and Muratov will be able to travel to Oslo to pick up the award, due to the pandemic.

The Nobel Institute in Oslo is due to decide in the coming days whether to hold its ceremony online or in person.

Next week, the Nobel season wraps up on Monday with the announcement of the Economics Prize.