An Iranian journalist who spent the last six
years in jail for criticising the Iranian authorities has been awarded the 2006
Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize from the World Association of
Akbar Ganji, a leading investigative journalist who
is now one of Iran’s most renowned dissidents, dedicated the award to "all
Iranian dissidents and freedom-fighters."
"And in this category, more than anyone the prize
should go to those who fought for freedom and human rights and were as
punishment slaughtered during what came to be known as the "Serial Murders," he
said, referring to the murders of dissident intellectuals by Intelligence
Ministry agents in the late 1990s. Mr Ganji wrote extensively about these cases,
implicating leading conservative figures from the ruling establishment in the
murders. The Ministry said "rogue agents" were responsible for the
The award was presented Monday during the opening
ceremonies of the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum, the global
meetings of the world’s press, which drew more than 1,700 newspaper executives
and editors to Moscow, Russia. The awards ceremony was the first opportunity for
Mr Ganji to address an international audience since his release from prison in
Mr Ganji dedicated his prize to others as well --
prisoners who were executed while serving their sentences in 1987, journalists
who have been tortured and paralyzed, dissidents deprived of their social rights
and imprisoned, and Iranians who have been forced into exile "only because they
dared to think and live differently."
Akbar Ganji after his last
release in March 2006
Mr Ganji was arrested in 2000 following his
participation in a conference in Berlin in which political and social reform
were publicly discussed. He was convicted in 2001 of "insulting religious edicts
and figures, threatening national security and dissemination of propaganda
against the Islamic regime."
He spent most of his term in solitary confinement. He
was tortured, and went on months-long hunger strikes, prompting both UN
Secretary General Kofi Annan and US President George Bush to call, in vain, for
his early release. When he was released on 18 March, he weighed only 48
kilograms (108 pounds).
In presenting the award, the World Association of
Newspapers and the World Editors Forum called on the Iranian regime to respect
the right of its citizens to freedom of expression.
"Though he is out of prison, Ganji is not yet free,"
said George Brock, President of the World Editors Forum, who presented the
award. "Free political discussion is harder now than it was when his sentence
began. The reformist movement is on the wane. Hard-liners have taken over
Parliament and ultra-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is puring
reformists from government. Iran’s judiciary has closed down more than 100
pro-democracy publications in the past five years, including the papers that
Ganji wrote for. It is unlikely that any newspaper would risk publishing Ganji’s
The award citation from WAN said: "Akbar Ganji fights
for freedom of expression in Iran but his efforts are watched around the globe.
His remarkable resistance to repression and his streadfast refusal to be
silenced, at great personal cost, is an inspiration ot journalists everywhere.
It is through courageous journalsits who do not capitulate -- even in the face
of long prison terms and even death -- that freedom advances."
Read Mr Ganji’s full acceptance speech
WAN, the global association of the newspaper
industry, has awarded the Golden Pen annually since 1961. Past winners include
Argentina’s Jacobo Timerman (1980), South Africa’s Anthony Head (1986), China’s
Dai Qing (1992), Vietnam’s Doan Viet Hoat of Vietnam (1998), Zimbabwe’s Geoffrey
Nyarota (2002), and Uzbekistan’s Ruslan Sharipov (2004). The 2005 winner was
journalist Mahjoub Mohamed Salih of Sudan.
The Paris-based WAN defends and promotes press
freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 73
national newspaper associations, newspapers and newspaper executives in 102
countries, 11 news agencies and nine regional and world-wide press groups.