Columbia University Honors Konaté Decision as Winner of Global Freedom of Expression Prize

Columbia University Honors Konaté Decision as Winner of Global Freedom of Expression Prize

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WilmerHale is proud to congratulate its pro bono partner, the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), on being named a recipient of Columbia University's inaugural Global Freedom of Expression Prize for Excellence in Legal Services for its representation of journalist Lohé Issa Konaté in a groundbreaking freedom of expression case at the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (Konaté v. Burkina Faso). Led by Partner Steven Finizio, WilmerHale is co-counsel with MLDI on the Konaté case. 

The Global Freedom of Expression award was given at a ceremony on March 11, 2015 at Columbia University at the conclusion of the second annual Global Freedom of Expression and Information conference. The award was established by University President Lee C. Bollinger to honor judicial decisions and legal representation around the world that strengthen freedom of expression by promoting international legal norms.

In 2012, Mr. Konaté was sentenced to a year in prison and his newspaper was shut down for articles that were found to be defamatory of a local prosecutor. In a judgment issued in December 2014, the African Court held that Mr. Konaté's imprisonment violated his right to freedom of expression. The African Court held that prison is never an acceptable sanction for libel and that criminal sanctions should be imposed on journalists only in extreme circumstances. The decision is an important precedent, and should result in other African journalists being freed from prison and reduce the threats journalists face. The case was argued before the African Court by MLDI Legal Director Nani Jansen, Mr. John Jones QC and Mr. Finizio.

"We are very happy that the Court's decision in Mr. Konaté's case has received this attention. It also is important that Mr. Konaté's courage in pursuing this fight is recognized. The Court's decision is a significant one for the right of freedom of expression in Africa and the rest of the world," said Mr. Finizio. "We congratulate MLDI on its recognition, and look forward to continuing to work with it and supporting its mission."

MLDI is a non-governmental organization which helps journalists, bloggers and independent media outlets around the world defend their rights. WilmerHale is a pro bono partner of the organization, and partner and chair of its International Arbitration Group, Gary Born, is a member of the Board of Trustees of MLDI. In addition to Mr. Finizio, a number of the members of the firm's International Arbitration Group have worked on cases with MLDI, including Senior Associates Victoria Narancio and Dr. Maria Banda who are assisting in the representation of Mr. Konaté.

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From left to right: Peter Noorlander, CEO of MLDI; Nani Jansen, Legal Director of MLDI; and Steven Finizio, WilmerHale Partner.

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From left to right: Peter Noorlander, CEO of MLDI; Steven Finizio, WilmerHale Partner; Nani Jansen, Legal Director of MLDI; Lydia Cacho, Global Freedom of Expression Prize Committee Member; Agnés Callamard, Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and Information; Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University; Catalina Botero, Global Freedom of Expression Prize Committee Member; and Joel Simon, Executive Director of Committee to Protect Journalists.

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From left to right: Peter Noorlander, CEO of MLDI; Nani Jansen, Legal Director of MLDI; Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University; and Agnés Callamard, Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and Information.