UNITED NATIONS. WORLD PRESS FREEDOM PRIZE 2011

 

15 MAY 2011

WORLD PRESS FREEDOM PRIZE 2011

Imprisoned Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi is the laureate of this yearís UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. He was selected by an independent international jury of 12 media professionals.

A former editor-in-chief of the Azad newspaper and contributor to the Tehran-based daily Hamshahari, the BBC Persian service, and the Persian/English news site Rooz, Ahmad Zeidabadi is also a member of the Association of Iranian Journalists, and the elected president of one of Iran's largest student organizations, the Iranian Alumni Association. He is also a professor of political science, and has lectured at numerous academic institutions.

Ahmad Zeidabadi is currently serving a six-year jail sentence following Iranís disputed presidential election in 2009.

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, endorsed the juryís decision and called for Mr Zeidabadiís release from prison.

"Throughout his career Ahmad Zeidabadi has courageously and unceasingly spoken out for press freedom and freedom of expression, which is a fundamental human right that underpins all other civil liberties, a key ingredient of tolerant and open societies and vital for the rule of law and democratic governance," said the Director-General.

"Ahead of World Press Freedom Day and in recognition of the concerns expressed by the international jury for his health and well-being, I call on the Iranian authorities to release Mr Zeidabadi from detention."

Born in 1966, Ahmad Zeidabadi was first arrested in 2000. His campaign for civil rights gained momentum at that time, with the publication and wide distribution of an open letter, written in prison, in which he denounced the treatment of jailed journalists. Less than a year after his release on bail in March 2001, he was imprisoned again, sentenced to serve 23 months in jail and banned for five years from "all public and social activity, including journalism." Released in 2004, Mr Zeidabadi was among dozens of Iranian journalists detained following the 2009 election. Along with 40 other journalists, he was tried on charges of plotting to overthrow the Government with a "soft revolution". He was sentenced to six years imprisonment followed by five years internal exile, and banned for life from practicing his profession as a journalist. At least 26 other journalists are also still behind bars.

Upon being informed of the award, Mr. Zeidabadi made the following statement:

"I would like to greet the honourable Director General of UNESCO, as well as the members of the Prize Jury for their efforts and for the honour they have bestowed upon me with the award of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.

"I feel sad and apologetic for not being able to draft a message worthy of the occasion and your gathering. As you may be aware, the Revolutionary Court in addition to sentencing me to six years' imprisonment, five years of exile and a lifetime ban on political, social and journalistic activity has also banned me forever from any writing and speaking. Therefore, any message by me would add to my suffering and that of my family.

"Despite that restriction, I would like to make it clear that in the performance of my profession, I had no means but my pen and my speech and that in using those means, I never went beyond the narrow and limited confines of the Iranian government's laws and regulations. But, in violation of their own laws and regulations, they have imposed pain and suffering beyond my endurance -- pain and suffering resembling those of a person who is crucified for weeks or buried alive.

"While in prison, I constantly strive to forgive, but I cannot forget.

"Finally, in accepting this Prize which is in reality a recognition of all prisoners of opinion in my country and my imprisoned or exiled colleagues, I dedicate it to my family and in particular to my wife and children. In addition to the psychological pains of these two years, they have for the past ten years had to live with the dread of an expected "knock on the door." With every unexpected knock on the door, their fragile and innocent hearts were agitated.

"I also dedicate this Prize to the mother of Sohrab Arabi and all other heartbroken mothers whose sons never returned home. I dedicate it to all tearful mothers, sisters, daughters and the children who live with the pain of having their loved ones in prison.

"For remembering us, God will remember and reward you."