Golden Pen of Freedom 2023 to jailed Iran journalists

Elahe Mohammadi and Niloofar Hamedi presently jailed in Iran

Niloofar Hamedi (left) and Elahe Mohammadi (right). Photo dpa

The 2023 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom award of the World Association of News Publishers (Wan-Ifra), has been awarded to Elahe Mohammadi and Niloofar Hamedi, currently in jail in Iran.

The award, made during the 2023 World News Media Congress, currently taking place in Taipei, Taiwan recognizes the bravery and determination “of two courageous young women whose journalism kept sight of truth as the Iranian regime attempted to rewrite history.”

The death in custody in September 2022 of 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa ‘Jhina’ Amini after being detained by Iran’s Morality Police following an attempt to enforce strict hijab rules, sparked a violent response by security forces as a wave of protest swept the country, Wan-Ifra reported.

Separately, both Elahe Mohammadi and Niloofar Hamedi reported on the immediate aftermath of Amini’s detention and subsequent death, marking them as targets for the Iranian regime as it attempted to suppress the story and contain a growing nationwide uprising.

Their subsequent arrest and incarceration “is a desperate attempt to deflect onto two young journalists all the frustration and anger that has risen to the surface because of years of oppression, denial of rights, and control of the narrative,” said Martha Ramos, editorial director of Organización Editorial Mexicana (OEM) in Mexico, and president of the World Editors Forum, in announcing the award.

What both women were doing is precisely their job as journalists. The Iranian people will not remain in a state of denial or servitude to tyrants, totalitarians, and those who deny basic human dignity. But this comes at a price – one which is too high. It has been paid for by generations of brave men and women who protest and seek to hasten the demise of their oppressors. It has been paid by over 500 dead and by tens of thousands arrested since September 2022… Today, it is being paid by Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, and anywhere up to 60 of their jailed colleagues, 22 of them women journalists.”

Niloofar Hamedi, 30, works for the reformist daily newspaper Shargh and was arrested on 22 September 2022 for breaking news about Mahsa Amini’s death and reporting on her treatment at the hands of the Morality Police.

She published photos of Amini lying brain-dead in a hospital and her devastated parents embracing that spread rapidly online.

On 29 September, security forces also arrested 36-year-old Elahe Mohammadi. A reporter for the daily newspaper Hammihan, she had traveled to cover Amini’s funeral, during which thousands of people chanted “Jin, Jian, Azadi” (woman, life, freedom), for the first time.

Nationwide protests followed, calling for justice for Mahsa Amini as well as personal and political liberties and accountability from the Iranian government.

On 28th October, the Iranian ministry of intelligence and the intelligence agency of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard accused both journalists of planning to orchestrate nationwide protests with their reporting as well as conspiring with the intelligence agencies of multiple foreign powers to undermine Iran’s national security.

Iran’s reaction to the latest protests that began in September 2022 has reinforced its reputation as one of the world’s most repressive countries for press freedom. Arbitrary arrest and lengthy prison terms are common practices. Mainstream media is predominantly controlled by the state, which has traditionally a very low tolerance for criticism. Under the strict Islamic regime of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is also head of the country’s main political, judicial, and military institutions, independent reporting is often labeled as foreign-influenced.

Current reports suggest nearly 70 journalists – at least 22 of them women – have been arrested since mid-September. Elahe Mohammadi and Niloofar Hamedi stand accused of having ties to multiple foreign intelligence agencies, a common falsehood levied at detained journalists from both Iran’s intelligence service and Revolutionary Guards. Any trial they go on to face is likely to be before a revolutionary court and grossly unfair.

Control of information and repression of free speech is widespread, meaning journalists already worked under intense scrutiny inside Iran. However, since the recent protests the situation has significantly hardened: arrests, interrogations, imprisonment, surveillance, harassment, and threats have all intensified. Foreign-based Iranian journalists also report an uptick in threats and harassment.

This is the fourth award of the Golden Pen to Iranian journalists, and the fourth time we speak from this platform to denounce the jailing of Iranian journalists,” said WEF President, Martha Ramos. 

Let us once again raise our voices as one, loud and clear, so they hear us all the way in Tehran: release Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, and all jailed journalists. Let the press live free in Iran, once and for all…”

The Golden Pen of Freedom is Wan-Ifra’s annual award, recognizing individuals or organizations that have made an outstanding contribution to the defense and promotion of press freedom. One of the objectives of the Golden Pen is to turn the spotlight of public attention on repressive governments and the journalists who fight them. The laureate is nominated from a shortlist of candidates by the board of the World Editors Forum. The first Golden Pen of Freedom was awarded in 1961.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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