Ahmad Zeidabadi

Jailed Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi was awarded UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in absentia on Tuesday in Washington.

Zeidabadi was arrested in the post-election protests of 2009, when millions of Iranians took to the streets to challenge the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which they claim was fraudulent. Dozens of journalists were among thousands of people arrested in order to crush the protests.

Zeidabadi is charged with activities against national security and propaganda against the regime. He is sentenced to six years in prison and another five years in exile. He is also banned from ever practicing journalism.

In a message that Zeidabadi wrote from prison for the occasion, he thanks UNESCO and the jury: “I apologize that I cannot write a message worthy of this occasion. As you know, the Revolutionary Court has sentenced me to six years in prison, five years in exile and a lifetime ban from political, social and journalistic activities. Any message from me will in fact add to the suffering of my family and myself.”

Zeidabadi writes that UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Prize is for all Iranian prisoners of conscious and his colleagues who are now in chains or in exile, as well as all those who have lost loved ones during the recent unrest in Iran.

Zeidabadi was editor-in-chief of Azad newspaper prior to his arrest. He was also a prominent contributor to the Tehran-based daily Hamshahari, BBC’s Persian news service, and the Persian/English news site Rooz.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO said: “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.”

Zeidabadi was first arrested in 2000 for his journalistic activities in Iran. A year after his release in March 2001, he was imprisoned again to serve a 23-month jail term and was also banned from public and social activity. He was released in 2004 and found himself at odds with the government once again in 2005, by calling for the boycott of the national elections.

The UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize was founded in 1997 and is given each year to an individual or organization for their role in defending the free press.