The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has awarded this year’s Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize to Mazen Darwish, a Syrian journalist and activist imprisoned since 2012.
Mazen Darwish, still currently imprisoned has more than ten years of work as president of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (CMFE) founded in 2004 under his belt. A lawyer and press freedom advocate, is and one of the founders of the Voice newspaper and syriaview.net, an independent news site, which has been banned by the Syrian authorities. In 2011, Darwish established Media Club, the first Syrian magazine about media affairs. He has been detained since February 2012, when he was arrested with colleagues Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghareer.
The Prize was awarded in Latvia during the celebration of World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd 2015. An independent International Jury of media professionals recommended Mazen Darwish in recognition of the work that he has carried out in Syria for more than ten years at great personal sacrifice, enduring a travel ban, harassment, as well as repeated detention and torture. Led by Ko-ko U (Myanmar), chairman of the Yangon Media Group and publisher of the Yangon Times, the International Jury stressed the need to remember Mr Darwish, currently in prison, along with so many other human rights defenders and journalists.
Mr Darwish’s wife, Yara Bader, received the prize on his behalf at the ceremony organized by UNESCO in Riga, Latvia on May 3, 2015 to mark World Press Freedom Day. She has been runing the centre since Darwish’s arrest and in her speech spoke about her husband and the situation of freedom of information in a Syria devastated by war.
She stated that she was proud of her husband though also sad that he was unable to receive it due to his detention. She explained that in Syria, while human rights may not be respected, the people are standing up against this and are serious about their dreams of building a better future.
She expressed her belief that struggle is the road to freedom and freedom is the essence of humanity and that only the very few who cherish with deep moral sense, and have awareness of moral responsibility are really a free, fighting a lifetime in the struggle for freedom. She counted her husband Mazen Darwish as one of those few calling him a free actor, haunted with high responsibility, ethics and awareness. She explained that for more than 10 years, he “choose, with free will, to abandon so much, and return to his country, work in it and for it, within its context and under the overwhelming shadow of the oppression that rules it.”
She spoke about her husband’s fight for transparency, freedom of expression, freedom of information etc. She noted that it was an ethical struggle before anything else and that these are basic rights for citizenship and human dignity.
She noted that his detention in early 2012 was a strong message of repression not to him alone but to such a civil and peaceful movement of reason. She however insisted that this cannot detain ideas or free will even though “the despotic authority might be able only of depriving one of their ability to contribute and remain active, depriving the free choice to cherish the common notion that ‘there are no reliable alternatives out of this authority control.’”
She quoted her husband to have written that “no regime, government or group was ever able of monopolizing the truth, hiding it nor even concealing a its multi-facetted nature. Not even in the days of steel curtains and singular ideologies” in 2011 though pointing out that in today’s age of telecommunication and social networking, the authorities rely on a “chaos of information” strategy, creating a thick layer of fog that deprives a journalist of the necessary clear vision.
She counted her husband’s detention and the persistent refusal to release him as being aimed at the principles he stood for rather than his person. She urged others on the harsh and painful journey to freedom to fight with moral standards, professional tools and free will as she learned to from Darwish.
Her speech ended with her stating:
“I need you, but I am fully aware that Syria needs you more than I do, as much as it needs ethical effectiveness and free press.
Mazen would say: “To Inana and Adad, my children, I dedicate this award, years of my love that I have spent in the dark, are for you to live in the light, without fear of dreaming, of ideas, of words that you would and should say
So, for that, forgive my absence today”.
Numerous human rights and press organizations around the world have issued calls for the release of Darwish and his fellow journalists.
On 15 May, 2013 the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 67/262 demanding that “the Syrian authorities immediately release all persons arbitrarily detained, including the members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression.” In January 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) addressed a communication to the Syrian authorities denouncing the arbitrary detention of Darwish and his Media Centre colleagues and called for their immediate release.
The annual UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize was Created by UNESCO’s Executive Board in 1997 in honour of a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and, or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, and especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger.
The $25,000 Prize is named in honour of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper, El Espectador, in Bogotá on December 17, 1986. It is funded by the Cano Foundation (Colombia) and the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (Finland).