The International Press Institute (IPI) today named as its 68th World Press Freedom Hero prominent Iranian journalist, academic, writer and political analyst Ahmad Zeidabadi, who has courageously fought for freedom of expression, human rights and democracy in his country despite continued persecution by authorities.
IPI also announced today that independent Turkish news platform Medyascope.tv was the recipient of its 2016 Free Media Pioneer Award, citing the website’s groundbreaking use of new technologies to impart independent news and information in a media landscape under tremendous pressure.
Both awards, which are being given in partnership with Copenhagen-based International Media Support (IMS), will be presented during a special awards ceremony and gala dinner on March 19 in Doha, Qatar during IPI’s annual World Congress and General Assembly.
IPI’s World Press Freedom Hero Award honours journalists who have made significant contributions to the promotion of press freedom, particularly in the face of great personal risk.
Zeidabadi has suffered multiple arrests, imprisonment in solitary confinement, internal exile, and a lifetime ban on social and political activities – including practicing his profession as a journalist and travelling abroad – due to his journalistic work.
IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said Zeidabadi was chosen “because of his exceptional courage, resilience and commitment to press freedom and freedom of expression in Iran, which in recent years has been one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists”.
She continued: “Zeidabadi has shown great bravery and determination in supporting reform in Iran in the face of continued oppression by an autocratic regime. We hope that recent political developments in the country signal positive change and that this award will serve to bring renewed attention to his story, as well as that of all journalists in Iran who have been persecuted for seeking to report the news and inform the public.”
In a message sent to IPI on Feb. 26, Zeidabadi said that in his situation a man might think that he has been sentenced to a “silent death” and completely forgotten. However, he said, the news that IPI had named him a “World Press Freedom Hero” reminded that throughout the world there are colleagues and institutions who have not forgotten him. This gave him hope, he said, that one day he might once again be able to freely speak, write and analyse.
Zeidabadi’s imprisonment, exile
Zeidabadi was among dozens of Iranian journalists and supporters of the country’s pro-reform movement detained shortly after the 2009 Iranian presidential election. Arrested on June 29, 2009 and charged with acting against national security, disturbing public opinion and spreading propaganda against the Holy Islamic Republic, he was sentenced in December 2009 to six years in prison, five years in internal exile, and a lifetime ban on social and political activities, including practicing his profession as a journalist.
Held in solitary confinement for the first 141* days after his arrest, Zeidabadi was reportedly kept in horrific conditions and severely beaten during interrogation. He went on a hunger strike to protest his detention and had to be hospitalised for 17 days. Immediately after having served his full term in prison, he was transferred to the city of Gonabad in north-eastern Iran to begin his time in exile. However, he was released from exile while on a break visiting his family in Tehran on July 23, 2015.
A former editor of the reformist newspaper Azad and contributor to the dailies Ettela’at andHamshahri, BBC Persian and the Persian/English news site Rooz, Zeidabadi has been arrested multiple times for his work as a journalist.
He was first ordered arrested in July 2000 during a crack-down on pro-reform journalists and sentenced to 13 months in prison. While there, he issued a well-publicised open letter protesting the Iranian judiciary’s treatment of journalists in prison. In 2002 he was arrested again and eventually sentenced to 23 months behind bars. The sentence was later reduced to 13 months on appeal, but Zeidabadi remained subject to a five-year ban on engaging in “social activities” or practicing journalism.
In 2007, Zeidabadi authored a widely publicised open letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei, questioning the legal and logical rationale for prohibiting criticism of the supreme leader and noting that journalists in other countries were allowed to criticise their leaders. When he was again arrested in 2009, he was reportedly subjected to harsher treatment because of the letter and his interrogators demanded that he apologise to Khamanei for not addressing him as “exalted leader”.
Zeidabadi was previously honoured by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) in 2010 with its Golden Pen of Freedom Award and in 2011 he was the recipient of UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
Free Media Pioneer
Medyascope.tv is an independent platform that delivers original and uncensored audiovisual journalistic content to online audiences. Most of its content – op-ed, analysis and discussion programmes on subjects ranging from national and international politics to economy, sports and cultural interests – is initially broadcast live through Periscope, a video streaming app for iOS and Android, then posted on their website, http://medyascope.tv. Video content is also made available in audio format via podcasts on iTunes and SoundCloud.
It was launched in August 2015 by prominent Turkish journalist Ruşen Çakır, a former senior correspondent for the Turkish daily Vatan and contributor to various other media outlets, includingTempo, Cumhuriyet, Milliyet, CNN Türk and NTV. Since then, Medyascope has grown in popularity as an independent, alternative source of news to mainstream Turkish media, which has come under increasing and widespread government pressure.
“Medyascope provides a transparent and independent voice in a media landscape in which both news outlets and journalists find themselves under enormous pressure by the Turkish government,” Trionfi said. “It gives journalists – including many who have been dismissed from their jobs due to government pressure – an important new platform for reaching a large audience with uncensored and independent news, and provides a useful model that could be replicated in other countries around the world.”
Commenting on Medyascope’s recognition as 2016 Free Media Pioneer, Çakır told IPI that “this award will give Medyascope most valuable recognition as a reputable, respectable media platform, also disproving the naysayers that tried to cast gloom on this venture from the beginning”.
He added: “The award also carries a globally acknowledged confirmation for our claim that ethical journalism is still possible even with limited resources and funds, which will surely make our future path an easier one.”
The annual IPI Free Media Pioneer Award was established in 1996 to recognise news or media organisations that have made innovations that have promoted news access or quality, or benefitted journalists and the media community, thereby ensuring freer and more independent media in their country or region.
Registration for IPI’s World Congress is still open. More information, including the full programme, is available at http://www.ipiworldcongress.com/
*This article was corrected on March 1, 2016 to note that Zeidabadi spent his first 141 days behind bars in solitary confinement, rather than just the first 35 days.