Press Freedom Prize Goes To Iranian Journalist

1998-12-21. Exiled Iranian editor and writer Faraj Sarkoohi, who has been persecuted by the regimes of both the Shah and the Islamic Republic, has been awarded the 1999 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN).

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by WAN-IFRA Staff | December 21, 1998

The award, announced Monday by the WAN Board, was made in recognition of Mr Sarkoohi’s outstanding contribution to the cause of press freedom.

In a statement, the Board said: “Mr Sarkoohi has persistently called for greater press freedom in his country and has not been deterred by imprisonment, harassment, torture or exile. In the face of unspeakable punishment for the “crime” of promoting freedom, he has refused to be silenced and continues to write eloquently about conditions in his home country. At great personal risk to himself and his family, he has upheld the highest mission of journalism – the search for the truth. He is an inspiration to publishers and journalists everywhere.”

Faraj Sarkoohi, 51, former editor of the cultural journal Adineh, is the most prominent figure in the clash between intellectuals and the Iranian regime over freedom of speech. He was detained for eight years during the Shah’s rule and, following the revolution, has continued to call for greater press freedom. He was an organiser of a celebrated 1994 statement calling for an end to censorship in Iran.

In November 1996, Mr Sarkoohi disappeared for 47 days. He said in a letter during this time that he had been interrogated by the Iranian authorities and badly tortured. Iran falsely claimed he had been in Germany, accused him of spying and jailed him in January 1997.

During a closed trial in September 1997, Mr Sarkoohi was convicted of slandering Iran and sentenced to a year in prison. He was released in January 1998 but denied a passport until authorities bowed to international pressure to permit him to leave Iran in May. He lives in exile in Germany.

In a letter to participants to a freedom of expression conference organised by WAN in Stockholm in March 1998, Mr Sarkoohi wrote: “For some 100 years,
our people have been knocking at the door of modernity, but tyrants have blocked their entrance. The tyrants cannot listen to anything but to their
own voice. They want the people to be a passive listener and are afraid of creative dialogue of ideas. They want the media to be deaf and dumb, and do
not allow free activity of independent organizations of writers and journalists.”

WAN, the global association of the newspaper industry, has awarded the Golden Pen annually since 1961. Past winners include Argentina’s Jacobo Timerman (1980), Russia’s Sergei Grigoryants (1989), and China’s Gao Yu (1995). The 1998 winner, Vietnam’s Doan Viet Hoat, was recently freed from prison following an international opinion campaign organised by WAN and other press freedom groups.

The association’s membership includes 57 national newspaper publishers associations, individual newspaper executives in 90 countries, seven regional press organizations and 17 news agencies world-wide. It represents 15,000 newspapers.

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