Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Iranian Journalist awarded UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize

Today 3 May is World Press Freedom Day - a day set aside by the United Nations to highlight the importance of press freedom and the right to free expression worldwide. All around the world on this day, journalists and individuals who work to inform the public, sometimes at great personal risk, are honored. It's in this spirit that today, UNESCO honors Ahmad Zeidabadi, an imprisoned Iranian journalist, with the UNESCO/Guillermo Carno World Press Freedom Prize.

According to UNESCO, a United Nations agency dedicated to build peace, eradicate poverty, promote sustainable development and dialogue, Ahmad was arrested and imprisoned following the controversial presidential elections held in Iran on 12 June 2009 and charged with plotting to overthrow the regime. He was sentenced to six years in prison and among other things, banned from practicing journalism.

On 10 December 2009, Amnesty International published a detailed 79-page report about repression and human rights violations in Iran during the disputed 2009 elections. The report titled Election Contested, Repression Compounded, documents widespread torture, killings and arbitrary arrests, including the arrest, detention and torture of Ahmad Zeidabadi.

Amnesty International reports that prior to and after the 2009 elections, the Iranian Government heavy-handedly stifled press freedom and free expression. Newspapers were shutdown and some web sites, including Facebook and Twitter, were blocked.

It is worthy to note that Ahmed is only one of the many journalists arrested in violation of press freedom during the 2009 crackdown. Other journalists arrested at the time include the following:
  • Lason Athanasiades
  • Masia Bahari
  • Saeed Laylaz
  • Bahman Ahmadi Amouie
  • Zhila Bani Yaghoub
  • Fariba Pajouh
  • Hengameh Shahidi
  • Hassan Sheikh Aghaei
  • Ahmad Bahari.
The list is inexhaustive.

Following the arrest of Ahmed Zeidabadi, he was reportedly held in solitary confinement for 35 days in a "confin-like cell only 1.5m long."

Today UNESCO has awarded Ahmed the 2011 UNESCO/Guillermo World Press Freedom Prize for his courage and commitment to uphold press freedom in Iran.

As of 3 May 2011, Ahmed Zeidabadi is still imprisoned. UNESCO has urged the Iranian authorities to release the journalist.

Here's a statement by Ahmed Zeidabadi to the Director General of UNESCO and members of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize jury on the occasion of the award.

You're encouraged to read the aforementioned Amnesty International report: Election Contested, Repression Compounded (in PDF). It exposes (on page 44) torture, ill-treatment and other abuses endured by the 2011 UNESCO/Guillermo Press Freedom Award laureate and many journalists, opposition supporters and other civilians in Iran in 2009.

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