Interview with Eynulla Fatullayev, Laureate of 2012 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize
Eynulla Fatullayev, an Azerbaijani journalist and human rights activist, has been named the winner of the 2012 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize by UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova. He was nominated for the award by an independent international jury.
What does freedom of the press mean for you?
Public debates about human rights, political freedoms, the activity of the government and investigations of corruption – these is the normal work of the press for countries with developed democracies. But they are considered to be a feat or even heroism in <a name="_GoBack"></a>my country. In 2007, I faced merciless repressive machinery for having acted in the name of freedom of press. I spent more than four years in prison; two of which were spent shut up in a one-man cell, where I lost my health, strength and nerves. Nevertheless, I gained an unshakeable conviction about in the significance of press freedom. I realized that no freedoms would ever survive without the freedom of press, for the freedom of speech is a fundamental value.
A tiny surviving part of the free press in Azerbaijan proved to be vigorous enough to back me, saving my life in an unequal battle with a formidable adversary. One cannot imagine what would have happened to me without the support of the free press. I would not have been able to preserve self-respect and dignity in a feudal-type prison.
The currency of press freedom, like the freedom of speech, has differed over time and place. Bold spirits were burnt in the 16th century; ostracized in the 18 century; challenged to a duel in the 19 century, have been able to criticize through newspapers and other media since then. My challenge and purpose is to ensure that freedom of speech in my country includes the ability to criticize in newspapers.
What would you like to see UNESCO do to promote press freedom?
UNESCO is a structure that has made a great contribution to the development of education and culture, including in our country, and especially in respect of the young generation. Inter-national, inter-cultural and inter-regional dialogue is carried on under the UNESCO aegis. In this respect, a particularly great contribution to this process must be credited to Irina Bokova, the Director General. I highly appreciate the repeated statements and indefatigable efforts of Mrs. Bokova and UNESCO as a whole that were aimed at my release from prison. Thus, in May 2010 following a decision of the European Court of Human Rights demanding my immediate release from prison, Mrs. Bokova made the same appeal to the government of my country.
UNESCO is one of the world's most authoritative organizations, so I believe that it is capable of influencing the governments of countries with democratic problems to protect freedoms of press and speech.
Do you expect receiving the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to have an impact on your work in the future?
It's a great surprise for me. In fact, I have been awarded many international prizes: in particular, the highest award of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in 2009; an award from the Committee for the Protection of Journalists on Human Rights in 2010; and I was admitted to the British Pen-Club in 2008 as honorary member. However, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano award is, beyond any doubts, the most prestigious, and I'm proud of it. This award places a higher responsibility on me to struggle for universal values.
What is the significance of journalistic and activist activity? The whole point is to make the authorities know that the public will not allow them to overstep their limits. It's our duty to perpetually remind the authorities of categories like "reputation" and "shame". In my view, presenting me with this award is sure to influence prospects of the Azerbaijani society and the awareness of the younger generation that conscience is the best steersman during a perilous voyage.