The US State Department on Thursday said it had made a mistake in informing a Finnish journalist that she was chosen as a finalist for an award recognising brave women, Reuters reported. State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino dismissed as “speculation” claims that the award was rescinded for her criticism of President Donald Trump.
Investigative journalist Jessikka Aro was earlier informed that she would be honoured with the International Women of Courage Award, to be presented in Washington by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Foreign Policy had reported on Wednesday. However, the offer was later rescinded.
Citing unidentified officials familiar with the internal discussions, the magazine said the State Department revoked the award after coming across Aro’s posts on social media critical of Trump. The decision “had nothing to do with her work”, an unidentified diplomatic source told the publication.
However, Palladino on Thursday called it “a regrettable error”. “What I would say is that we made a mistake,” he said, adding that Aro had not been selected as a finalist. “We incorrectly notified this individual that she had been selected as a finalist. This was an error. This was a mistake.”
Pompeo on Thursday presented the awards to 10 women journalists in a ceremony attended by First Lady Melania Trump. Aro had been nominated for the award by the US Embassy in Finland’s capital Helsinki. On February 12, she had received a formal invitation to the ceremony from the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol.
Aro has often been the subject of harassment for her work exposing Russia’s propaganda operations.
Palladino said the decision to withdraw the award offer was an internal one. “I’m not going to be able to go further into weighing the merits of who was selected, whether one person had more merit versus the other. That’s internal,” he said. “But I can say we regret the error and we’ve got to do better in that regard.”
The embassy had nominated Aro on the basis of her achievements, which the US admires, added Palladino.
Sharing the Foreign Policy story on Twitter, Aro said, “This happened to me.” In another tweet, she described the episode as a “disgrace” and said it violated the freedom of speech.