Five named as winners of Asia's 'Nobel Prize'

Campaigner on youth suicide, two journalists among Ramon Magsaysay Award winners

Mr Jose Cuisia Jr, chairman of the award foundation, unveiling the five winners of the Ramon Magsaysay Award during an event in Manila yesterday. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Mr Jose Cuisia Jr, chairman of the award foundation, unveiling the five winners of the Ramon Magsaysay Award during an event in Manila yesterday. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

MANILA • A campaigner who tackles youth suicide in South Korea, two journalists, a human rights activist and a composer were named yesterday as the winners of Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Award.

Mr Kim Jong-ki, whose 16-year-old son took his own life after being bullied in school, received the 2019 award for helping South Korea face one of the developed world's highest suicide rates.

Mr Kim, 72, was recognised for "his quiet courage in transforming private grief into a mission to protect Korea's youth from the scourge of bullying and violence", the Manila-based award foundation said in a statement.

Over 24 years, Mr Kim's Foundation for Preventing Youth Violence has carried out wide-ranging anti-bullying campaigns, introduced counselling and mediation as well as lobbied the government on new policy and laws. It runs a hotline that now takes up to 50 calls a day.

Suicide was the second leading cause of death among teenagers in South Korea as recently as 2005, with school bullying directly related to more than half of the cases, the award foundation added.

Journalists Ravish Kumar of India and Mr Ko Swe Win of Myanmar were also winners of this year's award, along with Thai human rights campaigner Angkhana Neelapaijit and Filipino composer Raymundo Cayabyab.

Ms Angkhana, 63, is the widow of a prominent human rights lawyer who was abducted and later murdered after publicly accusing the military of torturing detainees in the troubled Muslim region of southern Thailand.

The former housewife took up her late husband's cause and established the Justice for Peace Foundation to document the situation in the area, provide legal aid to victims and put pressure on the government to act on human rights cases.

Ms Angkhana, who later served as commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, was cited for "her systematic, unflagging work to reform a flawed and unfair legal system".

Mr Ko Swe Win, 41, is the editor of Myanmar Now, an independent online news service known for its well-researched and in-depth articles on the country's under-reported human rights and social justice issues.

"The effort to build a strong, independent and socially responsible press has to contend with draconian laws, rabid intolerance, repression and persecution," said the award foundation.

The editor spent seven years in prison as a young man, where he endured torture and starvation for taking part in student protests against the ruling junta.

Mr Kumar, 47, is the host of NDTV India's Prime Time programme that sheds light on Indian society's under-reported problems and who has endured harassment and threats for calling the country's highest officials to account.

Mr Cayabyab, 65, was recognised for "his compositions and performances that have defined and inspired Filipino popular music across generations".

The annual award in Asia is named for the Filipino president who died in a 1957 plane crash.

This year's winners will receive a cash prize and a medallion at a Manila ceremony on Sept 9.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2019, with the headline Five named as winners of Asia's 'Nobel Prize'. Subscribe