The National Press Club president on Monday evening called upon Iran to free journalists and other political prisoners whom it has incarcerated.
Jailed Iranian blogger Kouhyar Gourdarzi
Alan Bjerga made his statement as the Club honored in absentia Kouhyar Gourdarzi--an Iranian blogger in prison since December 2009--as the international winner of the 2010 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Awards. The Club also honored Charles N. Davis--a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and a storied advocate of open government--as the domestic winner of this year's Aubuchon award
"Tonight we call upon Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop cracking down on the press in Iran and to free Kouhyar Goudarzi and the other nearly two dozen journalists now held in Iranian prisons-just as we call for the freedom of the scores of other reporters held around the world," Bjerga said.
Iran's crackdown on the press that has worsened since the disputed presidential elections of June 2009. At Monday's event, Bjerga read aloud from a letter written by Goudarzi's mother, Parvin Mokhtare.
"It is pleasing to know that the 'charges' levied against our children in their own country, for which they have been imprisoned--charges such as human rights work, fighting for the right to higher education, free speech, free press, rights of child labor, campaign against the death penalty, civil and citizenship rights, etc.--are not 'charges,' but causes of encouragement and applause in other countries," Mokhtare wrote.
Bjerga said that Iran and China are now neck and neck in the "race to the bottom" as the world's leading jailers of journalists.
"We honor Goudarzi tonight not because he is a famous prisoner, but because he is one of many whom the world does not speak of enough," Bjerga said. "We honor him not only because his case is unique, but also because it is one of far too many in Iran and elsewhere."
Davis, the domestic winner of this year's prize, was formerly head of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, an organization that funds open-government groups around the country. A former reporter, Davis has also helped the cause through scholarly research and writing on governmental information and media law.
Davis accepted the award with gratitude and a sense of joy in his work.
"My job, for many years, has consisted largely of squaring off with tinpot dictators bent on secrecy-what fun!" said Davis. "In fact, all journalists would be wise to keep gamesmanship in mind as they do battle with government. ...That keeps it fun."
Bjerga called Davis a "class act."
"When you talk to people at open-government groups about who has been a leader in pushing for access to information the public has a right to know, the name Charles Davis is usually one of the first ones mentioned," Bjerga said.
The John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, given each year to one domestic and one international recipient, honors people who have contributed to the cause of press freedom and open government.
Aubuchon, the 2002 president of the National Press Club, was a stalwart advocate of press freedom who died in 2003.
The NPC Board of Governors approved the 2010 honorees upon the recommendation of the Club's Press Freedom Committee. The panel's chairman is John M. Donnelly of Congressional Quarterly and its vice-chairman is John Hughes of Bloomberg News.
--John M. Donnelly, firstname.lastname@example.org
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