UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize Awarded to Three Imprisoned Iranian Women Journalists

Written by Dr. Florence Akano

Niloofar Hamedi, Elaheh Mohammadi, and Narges Mohammadi have been declared as the recipients of the 2023 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, as recommended by an esteemed International Jury of media experts.

Established in 1997, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is an annual award that recognizes an individual, organization, or institution that has exhibited an exceptional commitment to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom worldwide, particularly in the face of adversity. It is the only award of its kind bestowed upon journalists within the UN System.

The award is named after Guillermo Cano Isaza, the Colombian journalist who was assassinated outside the headquarters of his newspaper, El Espectador, in Bogotá, Colombia on December 17, 1986. It is financed by the Guillermo Cano Isaza Foundation (Colombia), the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (Finland), the Namibia Media Trust, Democracy & Media Foundation Stichting Democratie & Media (The Netherlands), and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

During the award ceremony, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, highlighted the importance of recognizing the perseverance of women journalists facing threats and attacks while carrying out their essential work. She emphasized the significance of paying tribute to their unwavering commitment to the truth, especially during times when such courage is becoming increasingly rare.

In particular, Ms Azoulay noted the remarkable contribution of female journalists from Iran, whose reporting played a critical role in the country’s women-led revolution. Despite the heavy price they paid for their bravery, their voices continue to inspire and resonate across the globe. UNESCO remains dedicated to honouring their courage and ensuring their safety and freedom.

The three laureates

Iranian journalists Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi have been jointly awarded the 2023 International Press Freedom Award by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and Harvard’s 2023 Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism. Both journalists have been detained in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison since September 2022 for their reporting on social issues and gender equality, including the death of Masha Amini in police custody. Hamedi is a reporter for Shargh, a leading reformist daily newspaper, while Mohammadi writes for the reformist newspaper Ham-Mihan. Both were named as two of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2023.

Narges Mohammadi, an author and Vice-Director of the Tehran-based civil society organization Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), is also a journalist who has worked for several newspapers. She has been serving a 16-year prison sentence in Evin Prison for her activism, yet she has continued to report on the conditions in prison, including her interviews with other women prisoners. Her book “White Torture,” which included these interviews, won the Reporters Without Borders’ Courage Prize in 2022.

Despite the Iranian government’s attempts to silence them, these journalists have continued to bravely report on issues that are important to the people of Iran, including those affecting women and human rights.

Women journalists under threat

According to UNESCO, women journalists and media workers are increasingly facing targeted attacks both online and offline, which include violence such as hate speech, trolling, physical assault, rape, and even murder. The organization has been advocating for the safety of women journalists and collaborating with partners to implement effective strategies and share recommendations to counter these threats, in accordance with several UN resolutions.

In 2021, UNESCO released a study called The Chilling, which highlighted the widespread nature of online violence against women journalists and the impact it has on their well-being, work, and press freedom. To address these issues, UNESCO is working with partners to develop practical tools for journalists, media managers, and newsrooms to better respond to both online and offline abuse. The organization is also collaborating with specialized organizations to provide training to women media workers both on the ground and through online courses, and partnering with security forces to sensitize them on the importance of freedom of expression with a gender-focused approach.

About the author

Dr. Florence Akano

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