The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, has announced that an imprisoned Iranian journalist will be the recipient of its prestigious award dedicated to press freedom.
Ahmad Zeidabadi was chosen by an independent jury of twelve media professionals to receive this year's UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. The prize, awarded to an organization or individual who makes a significant contribution on behalf of freedom of expression in the face of danger, was named in honor of a Colombian newspaper editor killed in 1986 after publishing stories on Colombia's murderous drug cartels.
The president of this year's selecting jury, Diana Senghor, said awarding the prize to Ahmad Zeidabadi "pays tribute to his exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression, democracy, human rights, tolerance and humanity."
Mr. Zeidabadi has been a newspaper editor and columnist, as well as a contributor to a variety of media outlets, including the BBC and the Persian-English news website Rooz. He is also a professor of political science and president of one of Iran’s largest student organizations, the Iranian Alumni Association.
Mr. Zeidabadi has been frequently jailed since 2000 for his outspoken views on the importance of freedom of expression, human rights and the rule of law. In 2009, he was arrested in the wave of detentions that followed Iran's disputed presidential election. He was tried in a mass judicial proceeding and sentenced to six years in prison, to be followed by five years of internal exile, and a life-time ban on journalistic or civic activities.
Since 2009, he has been denied bail and prohibited from taking any prison leave. There are credible reports that he has been subjected to physical duress.
In a congratulatory statement about Mr. Zeidabadi's selection for the press freedom prize, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed his work "and the work of the numerous other Iranian journalists who are currently jailed for their courageous efforts to forge a new path for Iran -– one where every citizen has the right to express themselves free from persecution or violence.
"This award," Secretary Clinton said, "is also a recognition of the rich culture and strong commitment to human rights by the Iranian people, despite brutal repression by their government. The United States will continue to stand up for the rights of all Iranian people, through the United Nations and working with the UN Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur established last month."