Press Freedom Prize Goes To Syrian Journalist

1999-11-23. Nizar Nayouf, the Syrian press freedom and democracy advocate, has been awarded the 2000 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers. Mr. Nayouf has been imprisoned in Syria since 1992.

Nizar Nayouf, Golden Pen of Freedom 2000

by WAN-IFRA Staff | November 23, 1999

The award, announced on Tuesday by the Board of the Paris-based WAN, was made in recognition of Mr. Nayouf’s outstanding contribution to the cause of press freedom.

In a statement, the Board said: “Nizar Nayouf is said to be near death due to unspeakable torture and the effects of diseases for which he has been denied adequate treatment. The Syrian regime has tried to break him, and they have failed. Despite the appalling conditions in which he is being detained, Mr. Nayouf is continuing his fight for freedom of speech and democracy. His sacrifice is a reminder that freedom of speech can carry a very high price; he is an inspiration to publishers and journalists everywhere.”

The Board, which was meeting in Lisbon, renewed its call to Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to respect international conventions and release Mr. Nayouf
and other journalists being held in prison. At least nine journalists are currently being held in prison in Syria.

“His case, and others like it, should be raised by every country that pursues political or business relations with the Syrian regime,” the Board said.

Mr Nayyouf, Editor in Chief of Sawt al-Democratiyya (Democracy’s Vote) and Secretary-General of the Committee for the Defence of Democratic Freedom in Syria, was arrested in 1992 and sentenced to ten years of forced labour for being a member of an “unauthorized” organization and for disseminating
“false” information.

Mr Nayyouf, 52, is confined to a tiny solitary cell and cannot walk, as his legs are paralysed and his vertebrae fractured due to the repeated torture by prison authorities. His sight is failing, following a fracture to the back of his head; burns from cigarettes stumped out on his skin have healed badly and left him with dermatitis.

Mr Nayyouf is also suffering from lymphatic cancer, liver disease and ulcers but is being denied full treatment.

WAN recently learned three attempts have been made to kill Mr. Nayouf in jail. The assassination attempts — by poisoning with arsenic and other chemicals, and by instigating a fight with another inmate — have failed for a variety of reasons, including aid provided to Mr Nayouf by sympathetic jailers.

He spent his first ten months of detention in Saydnaya prison, in the suburbs of Damascus, where he attempted to organized a prisoners’ rebellion. As punishment, prison authorities transferred him to the notorious military prison of Palmyre, in the Syrian desert.

In protest at the torture inflicted on prisoners at Palmyre, Nizar Nayouf went on a hunger strike for 13 days in 1993 which left him very weak. Numerous prisoners die under torture in Palmyre; Nizar Nayouf smuggled out evidence of this and was again transferred, as punishment, to the military prison of Mezze in Damascus, where he remains.

The military authorities holding Nizar Nayouf have made it clear that he will only receive additional medical treatment if he pledges to refrain from
political activity and signs a statement acknowledging that “he made false declarations concerning the situation concerning human rights in Syria.” He continues to refuse to do so.

WAN, the global association of the newspaper industry, has awarded the Golden Pen annually since 1961. Past winners include Argentina’s Jacobo Timerman (1980), who died earlier this month, Russia’s Sergei Grigoryants (1989), China’s Gao Yu (1995), and Vietnam’s Doan Viet Hoat (1998). Last  year’s winner was Faraj Sarkohi of Iran.

The association, which defends and promotes press freedom world-wide, represents 17,000 newspapers; its membership includes 61 national newspaper associations, individual newspaper executives in 93 countries, 17 news agencies and seven regional and world-wide press groups.

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