NEW YORK, APR 8 : An Iranian journalist and civil rights campaigner who has been in jail since his country’s disputed presidential elections in mid-2009 has won a top UN press freedom prize.
An independent jury of 12 media professionals from around the globe voted to award Ahmad Zeidabadi this year’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, the UN cultural body UNESCO announced.
Announcing the decision, jury president Diana Senghor said awarding of the prize to Zeidabadi “pays a tribute to his exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression, democracy, human rights, tolerance, and humanity”. “Beyond him, also the prize will award the numerous Iranian journalists who are currently jailed,” Senghor added.
UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova called on Iran’s hardline authorities to release Zeidabadi, who is currently serving a sentence of six years in jail, to be followed by five years of internal exile and a life ban from working as a journalist. Zeidabadi has been charged with plotting to overthrow the government with a “soft revolution”.
Since 2000 he has been frequently jailed because of his work in defending freedom of speech and expression.
“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,” Bokova said.
At least 26 other journalists remain in prison following a wave of arrests in the aftermath of Iran’s disputed presidential election in June 2009, UNESCO said. Zeidabadi is a former editor-in-chief of Azad newspaper and a contributor to Hamshahari, the BBC’s Persian-language service and the Persian/English news website Rooz. He is also a professor of political science.
Guillermo Cano was a Colombian newspaper editor who was murdered in front of his office in December 1986 by hitmen linked to the country’s drug cartels. Winners of the prize receive $25,000.