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Kelly Smith, Published October 06 2009

Two with local ties nominated for award

West Fargo teacher Jeremy Murphy and former Fargo reporter Roxana Saberi are among 11 journalists from across the world commended for their fight for free speech.

Murphy and Saberi are nominated for the Tully Center Free Speech Award, which honors journalists who have faced obstacles in free speech such as jail time, death threats or litigation.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of people around the world who have suffered for their free-speech advocacy,” said Barbara Croll Fought, the director of the center, part of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in New York.

“It’s our goal … to raise the consciousness of citizens about the fact that journalists still do face threats for being advocates and for speaking out or for doing investigative reporting,” she said in an interview.

The winner of the third annual award will be selected by Syracuse University students and faculty by mid-November and will receive $2,500.

Saberi, a 32-year-old Concordia College and Fargo North High School graduate, was imprisoned for four months in Iran and charged with espionage while working on a book – a charge eventually reduced. The former National Public Radio reporter was released and returned to Fargo in May.

“The world knows about the risks that she took and her awful imprisonment,” Fought said.

Murphy, a 28-year-old West Fargo High School English teacher, was removed this year from advising the student paper. Officials said it wasn’t due to content, but he and students told The Forum that administrators didn’t like the way the paper negatively portrayed the district.

“There’s been a lot of support from people all over the country; it’s been overwhelming and humbling,” Murphy said of his nomination. “Personally I don’t think I’m in the same league as some of the other journalists.”

Fought commended Murphy, the first North Dakota nominee.

“Jeremy Murphy’s case has gotten national attention,” she said. “It takes a lot of courage for a teacher to side with students against administrators.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515