Imprisoned Iranian reporter wins UN prize for press freedom

7 April 2011 – An Iranian journalist who has been in jail since his country’s disputed presidential elections in mid-2009 and has campaigned for greater civil rights has won a prestigious United Nations prize dedicated to promoting press freedom.

An independent jury of 12 media professionals from around the globe chose Ahmad Zeidabadi as the laureate of this year’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported today.

Announcing the decision, jury president Diana Senghor said that the choice of Mr. 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.”

Irina Bokova, the Director-General, called on Iranian authorities to release Mr. 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. He had been charged with plotting to overthrow the Government with a “soft revolution.”

“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,” Ms. 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.

Mr. 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. Since 2000 he has been frequently jailed because of his work.

The UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize was created by the UN agency in 1997 to honour the work of an individual or organization defending or promoting freedom of expression, especially if this action puts the individual’s life at risk. Laureates receive a $25,000 prize.

Mr. Cano was a Colombian newspaper editor who was murdered in front of his offices in December 1986 by hitmen linked to the country’s drug cartels.

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