Cuban blogger Sanchez calls media prize a ‘shield’

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez said winning the media watchdog IPI prize of World Press Freedom Hero is a “protective shield” that will help her break “the wall of censorship,” she said on Sunday.

“For someone who three years ago started opening cracks in the walls of censorship, my first feeling is that of enormous gratification,” Sanchez said of the award she was given Friday.

The recognition from the Vienna-based International Press Institute, which hailed her defiance of press restrictions and commitment to free speech, is “also a shield to keep daring” to put out news from the closeted Communist isle.

Sanchez began her blog Generation Y, which now counts over one million readers, in 2007. However, access to the site was banned in Cuba in 2008.

To bypass this, Sanchez, who celebrated her 35th birthday Saturday, emails her comments to friends abroad who post her notes on the Internet.`

In 2008, Time Magazine in the United States named her one of the 100 most influential people. The following year, her blog was listed as one of the 25 best blogs of the year by the magazine.

The future of Cuba is “where the power of the Internet can be used to promote freedom of expression,” Sanchez said, adding that the IPI prize was an additional “incentive” to keep going.

“Gradually the circle of censorship is in the process of breaking down. I am very happy. I will continue,” she said.

Alison Bethel McKenzie, director of the Vienna-based International Press Institute, said Friday that Sanchez’s “tremendously important work provides a glimpse into what is otherwise a closed world.”

She “represents a future where the power of the Internet can be harnessed to promote free speech,” McKenzie said in a statement.

Harassed and beaten on separate occasions, Sanchez has noted on her blog that she is constantly watched by state security agents.

But she refuses to stop writing: “If you are insulted by the mediocre, the opportunists, if you are slandered by the employees of the powerful but dying machinery, take it as a compliment,” she has written.