Friday, 3 April 2009

FPA: Imprisoned Iranian journalist Mohammad Sadegh Kaboudvand named International Journalist of the Year at British Press Awards 2009

The President of the Foreign Press Association in London Nazenin Ansari accepted the Award on behalf of her fellow countryman and journalist at the British Press Awards at London's Grosvenor Hotel last night. Sadegh is the former editor of Payam-e mardom-e Kurdestan, a weekly closed by the authorities in Iran. He is currently serving a 10 year prison sentence for his writings, and is in poor health and in urgent need of medical care. Nazenin Ansari told the audience at the Awards dinner that we had received a statement from Sadegh, who was at that moment in Evin prison in Tehran, and she read out 3 paragraphs from it. The full statement translated into English from its original Farsi, is below.

The British Press Awards
Statement from Mohammad Sadegh Kaboudvand:After saluting you with my warmest of greetings, I would like to start by offering my sincere thanks and gratitude to the ‘British Press Awards’ and everyone associated with it for making it their business to stand up and speak for all the suffering writers and journalists around the globe.
I am particularly grateful for having been chosen for this award and it is my hope that the noble efforts of this institution will also serve as a serious reminder to everyone of the plight of journalists and writers in all closed societies and in particular, the despotic Middle East region.
In this part of the world, journalists are pursued, harassed, arrested and imprisoned for merely being true to their profession by seeking to reflect the truth or urging their rulers to simply respect the dignity and god given human rights of their citizens.
As reflected and underlined in the various covenants pertaining to human rights, all human beings are entitled to be respected for their freedom of thought, speech and expression. Moreover, all human beings must be allowed to speak and write freely about their ethical and religious beliefs, political philosophy, rights or any other subject. It follows therefore, that no one should be persecuted for their thoughts or their beliefs or to have their individual liberties and social existence placed in jeopardy as a consequence of those beliefs.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clearly explicit that freedom of conscious, thought and expression must be guaranteed for all individuals and that no one should ever have cause for fear as a consequence of their thoughts sand ideas. Moreover, it is also explicit in stating that every individual must be free to receive and send information using every device available irrespective of national boundaries.
These freedoms should in no circumstances, even in periods of emergency or crisis ever become limited in scope or suspended. Also, no government should ever resort to forcing its citizens to abandon their own thoughts and beliefs in favour of the kind of political or religious thoughts that are espoused and prescribed by the state.
But in the land where we Iranian citizens live, no one can benefit from these rights or any other right or freedoms which have been prescribed in various international human rights covenants and declarations. In our land, no one is free to express their true beliefs but rather one is forced to think and reflect along the lines which the state has “ordained” for us. Individual thoughts and expressions are allowed only when they coincide with the official view points. Consequently people are forced into wanting what the state wants.
Should anyone at anytime, think or say something that is in conflict with the wishes of the state, then that person is seriously confronted – arrested, confined, imprisoned or even charged as an apostate for which the penalty is execution.
At a time when notions like liberty and freedom of conscience are directly connected to any individual’s social and political settings, and when the unique thoughts and beliefs of any human being which are confined within his own person, can only be seen and felt through an outward expression such as speech, the leaders of our land claim that people are entitled to their thoughts and beliefs so long as they do not express them in public.
The state in charge of our country has clearly been a major impediment to freedom of thought and expression as well as the dissemination of information amongst people. Not only has it been responsible for the closure of numerous newspapers and journals and other means of public discourse – but it also boastfully claims to have closed more than 5 million websites.
In the land Iranians live, people are not only prevented from expressing their thoughts and opinions but they are further barred from being free to wear, listen or see as we please. Their competence and judgement in identifying their various personal choices, is constantly questioned by the state. In simple terms, our people are incapable of wearing, hearing, listening or saying what it is they wish to wear, listen, hear or say.
The most personal of relations between individuals in our land is closely scrutinized under a microscope, and even the refuge of one’s own home is under the watchful eye of the government and the ruling establishment. Hence, no sector of any individuals’ personal life is safe and people are not allowed to challenge or criticize any aspect of this behaviour. Any criticism or challenge is forcefully dealt with and all critics or individuals who object are pursued, harassed, arrested and severely punished. Here, any protest or gathering, even gatherings of no more a few people, is labelled as an act against the state which can then be punished by imprisonment and execution.
In our land, people are denied freedom of participation and the right of self determination. They have no choice but to accept the choices that are made for them by the state or (‘big brother’). The ruling establishment make lofty speeches about the rights of the people of Palestine and Lebanon at a time when they show the least amount of respect for the various rights of their own people.
More than half the population, consisting of various national and ethnic minorities, are devoid of any right for the expression of their own identity, culture or language, and are also prevented from having any say in the running of the country or their own regions. Naturally, they suffer from prejudice, inequality and injustice.
Fifteen percent of the population, comprised of Kurds, face a situation in which their whole identity and existence has become threatened, and individuals are severely punished whenever they speak for their trampled rights, even though they are one of the three co-founding people of our great nation.
The ruling establishment speak in support of religious minorities in other places when they, themselves, brutally suppress all religious minorities and specially the Sunni Moslems who constitute more than a quarter of our country’s population. Indeed, the Sunnis are banned from celebrating any of their religious festivities or observing any of their rituals.
The ruling establishment have loudly criticized matters pertaining to the kind of limitations that have been placed on the observance Islamic dress code for women in other countries, and the various segments of the country’s mass media have been mobilized and devoted to supporting their positions over these issues. Yet within Iran, members of the security forces patrol every street corner in search of women whom they chastise, punish or arrest and imprison on charges of wearing the clothes which they have chosen to wear.
Iranian women who comprise half of the country’s population are confronted with serious discrimination which encompasses a wide range of areas from gender, social and cultural to simple secular law. Indeed, ‘male oriented laws’ that are based on traditional religious beliefs and values have institutionalized discrimination against women within society and consequently ignored their legal and civil rights.
In this land the ruling establishment speaks boldly of progress and improvement when according to every government statistic more than half of the people inhabiting this land are struggling below the poverty line and where millions of workers and wage earners based on the latest figures are earning figures equivalent to a fifth of the nationally defined rate for the poverty line, while millions of others around the country are living in huts and in conditions where poverty and deprivation is written over their faces.
While the ruling establishment speaks of health and vitality in people’s lives, half of our population and in particular significant number of our youth have been struck and burned by the evil of drugs and drug addiction. Again, while our rulers speak of a virtuous, moral society that is governed by rules and ethics, it is somewhat daunting that thousands of women must rely on selling themselves and prostitution for their daily needs. Indeed, in their quest for survival, many poverty stricken families have even resorted to selling their female offspring in a number of Arab sheikhdoms in the region.
Finally, at a time when the ruling establishment comments daily on subjects such as justice and fair play, it is mind boggling that a small number of people with special connection to powerful and rich circles have accumulated vast wealth and riches at the expense of destroying opportunities for millions of ordinary citizens, while others having resorted to nepotism and uncontrolled levels of bribery and corruption, have obtained similar positions of great advantage at the cost of bringing ruin and hopelessness to society at large.
Today, in our land no journalist, no critic of the regime or no human rights activist is able to pursue any of the issues pertaining to the kind of gross violations of basic human rights which I have briefly mentioned in my remarks. There is no question that whenever, in such circumstances, any one should dare to openly discuss issues such as justice in its true sense, human rights, democracy, basic freedoms and other popular demands, that their path will inevitably lead to ultimate arrest and imprisonment. It is possible to suggest that these are issues that can best be dealt with by political parties. But what are we to do in the absence of such free and independent institutions in our country?
In the end, I would like to once again express my thanks and gratitude to the British Press Awards and to convey my sincere respect and appreciation for the care and attention which they, as well as the International Campaign for Human Rights who have coordinated their activities with the Organization for the Defense of Human Rights in Kurdistan, have placed and continue to place in support of journalists such as myself.
Mohammad Sadegh Kaboudvand
Tehran, Evin Prison
25 March 2009
Helena O'Neill

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