Portenier Human Rights Bursary

Ola (Ibrahim) Falola, a freelance reporter and writer from Benin, won The Portenier Human Rights Bursary for 2018. Mr. Falola, based in Togo, will spend 6 months investigating modern slavery in Mauritania. The bursary provided him with hostile environment training, which he chose to take in Canada. He was selected by an independent jury from a shortlist of five finalists drawn from 44 applications from 32 countries around the world. The other finalists were from Kenya, Somalia, Russia and Britain. 

Applications for the 2019 competition will open on May 15, 2019. 


The Portenier provides an opportunity each year for an independent journalist or documentary-maker of any nationality, working on a significant human rights project that may place them in danger, to obtain hostile environment training. It is sponsored by the renowned human rights documentary producer, Giselle Portenier, who is also a member of the Forum’s board of directors. 


Slavery was officially abolished in Mauritania in 1981, but is still widely practiced, and the law is seldom enforced, Mr. Falola says.The only person convicted of owning slaves since a law came into effect received a 6-month sentence in 2011.   


“Slavery still persists in this Islamic country,” Mr. Falola said. “The situation has even worsened. Thousands of people are affected. Reliable sources say there is currently a lucrative sale of slaves to rich clients based in the Arabian Gulf”.


“A complex system has been set up to fuel this inhumane and barbaric felony. And many forms of abuse - verbal and physical – illustrate how the Mauritanian authorities harass, threaten, and silence both national and international press professionals involved in reporting the issue. Hostile environment training will help me cope with the dangers that I may face. So this is the best news I’ve ever received in my life.” 


Read the full media release                 Lire l’annonce médiatique

"Human rights abuses continue unabated in the 21st century, and human rights defenders worldwide need the support of journalists and documentarians to help them shine a light on these injustices. Some of the worst abuses are committed against women and children, sometimes as a result of war, but often systematically, in the name of culture and religion. The purpose of this bursary is to help ensure the safety of journalists and documentary filmmakers as they expose some of the most egregious abuses of human rights in the world today.”  - Giselle Portenier

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Read about Giselle’s latest documentary film

The bursary provides $3,000 (CAD) to help the winner attend a hostile environment and first aid training (HEFAT) course run by open of our approved course providers. These courses are currently available in Canada, the USA, Britain, Afghanistan and sometimes elsewhere. 

The inaugural winner in 2015 was Jason O’Hara, a Toronto-based documentary filmmaker. He is seen right receiving medical treatment after being attacked by police in Rio de Janeiro before the 2014 World Cup.  Photo: Bernardo Guerreiro/Midia Ninja Collective.                                   

The 2016 Portenier winner, Eman Helal (left), is a Cairo-based photojournalist who documents sexual harassment and physical attacks on Egyptian women. Her photographs and photo-essays have appeared in many international publications including The New York Times and The Guardian

Brennan Leffler, a Toronto-based documentary producer/director, won the Portenier in 2017. His documentary, with Mellissa Fung, is being filmed in Nigeria, focusing on women and children abducted and raped by the militant Islamist organization Boko Haram. The independent production is to be broadcast by TV Ontario. Mr. Leffler has also done investigative work for Global TV’s 16x9 and CTV’s W-5.

Applicants compete for a single bursary each year to help them attend a hostile environment course offered by one of the following approved course providers: AKE, Blue Mountain Group, Dart Centre at Columbia Journalism School1st Options SecurityGlobal Journalist Security, Pilgrims GroupRemote Trauma, or Tundra Group. 

These courses typically run 3-5 days. The list of course providers is subject to change from time to time. 

The Portenier winner is chosen by an independent jury. The winner has two months after notification to choose a course provider and secure a place on a course, beginning within 9 months of the winner being notified.                                                                                                                                                                   


Applications open: May 15, 2019

Application deadline: June 12, 2019

Notification of winner expected by: July 31, 2019

Course to be chosen by: September 30, 2019

Course to begin by: April 30, 2020

Applying for one of our regular FFF bursaries for news freelancers does not disqualify a candidate from applying for the Portenier, and vice versa, but applicants must meet the appropriate qualifications. No person, however, may receive two bursaries from the Forum in the same year.

You can read the rules to see if you qualify. While the competition is open, we provide a link to the online application form at the bottom of the rules page. 

On peut lire les règles pour voir si vous êtes admissible. Bien que la concurrence soit ouvert, nous fournissons un lien au bas de la page de règles pour la formulaire de demande en ligne.