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3 imprisoned Iranian women journalists win top UN prize


THE UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations announced on Tuesday evening that its first press freedom prize had been awarded to three Iranian women journalists imprisoned “for their commitment to truth and accountability”.

The winners are Niloufar Hamedi who announced the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last September while detained by the vice squad for wearing her headscarf too loosely, and Elaheh Mohammadi who wrote about her funeral.

Amini’s death sparked months-long protests in dozens of cities across Iran. The protests posed one of the most serious challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 2009 Green Movement protests drew millions to the streets.

The third winner is Narges Mohammadi, a journalist for many years and one of Iran’s most prominent activists.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Press Freedom Prize is named after Guillermo Cano, a Colombian journalist who was murdered outside the offices of his newspaper El Espectador in Bogota on December 17, 1986. UNESCO has awarded the prize to coincide with World Press Freedom Day on May 3 since 1997.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay announced the winners at a ceremony in New York, saying: “Today more than ever, it is important to pay tribute to all women journalists who are prevented from doing their work and who face threats and attacks on their personal safety. .”

Zainab Salbi, chair of the international jury of media professionals who chose the winners, said the courageous work of the three winners “has led to a historic revolution led by women”.

“They paid a heavy price for their commitment to reporting and conveying the truth,” Salbi said. “And for that, we pledge to honor them and ensure that their voices continue to resonate around the world until they are safe and free.”

At the end of April, the Iranian justice recognized that two journalists who announced the death of Amini, Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, had been charged with collaborating with the United States, undermining national security and “propaganda against the system “.

While nearly 100 journalists were arrested amid the protests, reporting by Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi was crucial in the days following Amini’s death in publicizing the ensuing anger. Hamedi works for the reformist newspaper Shargh, while Mohammadi works for the reformist newspaper Ham-Mihan.

Their detentions drew international criticism of the bloody crackdown by security forces that lasted months after Amini’s death. According to UNESCO, Hamedi and Mohammadi have been in Iran’s Evin prison since September, and Hamedi is in solitary confinement.

Since the protests began, at least 529 people have been killed in protests, according to human rights activists in Iran. More than 19,700 others have been arrested by authorities in a violent crackdown aimed at suppressing dissent. For months, Iran has provided no overall casualty figures, while acknowledging that tens of thousands of people have been arrested.

Narges Mohammadi has been repeatedly detained and imprisoned by authorities, and UNESCO said she is currently serving a 16-year prison term in Evin Prison. She has been recognized abroad for her work, including her activism against the death penalty in Iran, which remains one of the world’s top executioners.

UNESCO said she was deputy director of the Tehran-based civil society organization Defenders of Human Rights Center. She also continues to do print reporting from prison and has interviewed other female prisoners who were included in her book “White Torture”, the UN agency said.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.