Imprisoned Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi is the laureate of this year’s UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. He was selected by an independent international jury of 12 media professionals.
A former editor-in-chief of the Azad newspaper and contributor to the Tehran-based daily Hamshahari, the BBC Persian service, and the Persian/English news site Rooz, Ahmad Zeidabadi is also a member of the Association of Iranian Journalists, and the elected president of one of Iran's largest student organizations, the Iranian Alumni Association. He is also a professor of political science, and has lectured at numerous academic institutions.
Ahmad Zeidabadi is currently serving a six-year jail sentence following Iran’s disputed presidential election in 2009.
Announcing the decision, jury president Diana Senghor said: “ The final choice of Ahmad 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.”
The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, endorsed the jury’s decision and called for Mr Zeidabadi’s release from prison.
“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,” said the Director-General.
“Ahead of World Press Freedom Day and in recognition of the concerns expressed by the international jury for his health and well-being, I call on the Iranian authorities to release Mr Zeidabadi from detention.”
Born in 1966, Ahmad Zeidabadi was first arrested in 2000. His campaign for civil rights gained momentum at that time, with the publication and wide distribution of an open letter, written in prison, in which he denounced the treatment of jailed journalists. Less than a year after his release on bail in March 2001, he was imprisoned again, sentenced to serve 23 months in jail and banned for five years from “all public and social activity, including journalism.” Released in 2004, he found himself once more at odds with the Government during the presidential election of 2005, when he published numerous articles calling for a boycott of the national election.
Mr Zeidabadi was among dozens of Iranian journalists detained following the 2009 election. Along with 40 other journalists and 100 prominent supporters of the country's pro-reform movement, he was tried on charges of plotting to overthrow the Government with a “soft revolution”. He was sentenced to six years imprisonment followed by five years internal exile, and banned for life from practicing his profession as a journalist. At least 26 other journalists are also still behind bars.
In 2010, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) gave Mr. Zeidabadi the prestigious Golden Pen of Freedom Award that recognizes outstanding action, in writing and deed, in the cause of press freedom.
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