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NY Times reporter honored for fight to protect source

People walk by the entrance to US newspaper 'The New York Times'  in New York on March 8, 2011
People walk by the entrance to US newspaper 'The New York Times' in New York on March 8, 2011

A New York Times reporter facing jail for refusing to reveal his source for leaks about the CIA was awarded the Newspaper Guild's press freedom prize on Wednesday.

James Risen won the Herbert Block Freedom Award for having "risked his own freedom to protect the principles that are essential for a truly free press," said a statement from the Newspaper Guild.

The guild pointed out that federal prosecutors have been pursuing Risen since 2006, demanding he confirm the name of a man they believe was a source for his book, "State of War" about the CIA and the Bush administration.

Risen has refused to name the source for his account of a bungled CIA operation in Iran that appeared in his book.

Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court decline to intervene in the case, which means Risen must face contempt of court proceedings.

"With his book, James Risen did what great journalists do," said Newspaper Guild-CWA president Bernie Lunzer.

"He dug for information, developed sources who trusted him and ultimately exposed some of the hard truths behind the war on terrorism. Without jeopardizing national security, he told Americans what their government wouldn't. That is his job, the job of all journalists. And we are all better for it."

The award, which comes with a $5,000 prize, honors Washington Post cartoonist Herbert Block, who died in 2001 and was an ardent defender of press freedom.

The award will be presented in October, the guild said, adding that it was not clear if Risen will be able to attend the event.

Press freedom groups have actively supported Risen, and earlier this week 14 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists issued statements of support for him.

"If you value a vibrant free press, you want the Jim Risens of the world out hunting for the toughest truths about how power is used and abused," said the statement from David Barstow of the New York Times.

"You don't want them rotting in jail cells. Do we really want to be that kind of country?"