Human rights groups have protested to the Iranian authorities over a longstanding travel ban on the journalist and activist Emadeddin Baghi, which has prevented him from receiving the prestigious Martin Ennals Award (MEA) for Human Rights Defenders in person
The award ceremony was held in Geneva on Monday 2 November 2009. Emadeddin Baghi became the first laureate in the award's 18-year history to be denied the opportunity to receive his prize in person.
Speaking by phone to Amnesty International, Emadeddin Baghi said that both he and Hans Thoolen, chair of the MEA, had asked the new prosecutor to lift the travel ban, but without success.
"Emadeddin Baghi's space to be seen and heard in Iran is becoming more and more limited," said Hans Thoolen.
The Iranian authorities have not permitted Emaddedin Baghi to leave the country and travel abroad since October 2004. In April 2008 he was prevented from travelling to London to pick up another award, as the British Press awards International Journalist of the Year.
On 31 July 2007, Emadeddin Baghi received a three-year prison sentence from Branch 6 of the Revolutionary Court In Tehran, on charges of "acting against national security" and "propaganda against the system".
The charges related to media interviews Emaddedin Baghi had given and letters he had written to the authorities in his capacity as the head of the non-governmental organisation, the Association for the Defence of Prisoners' Rights.
In these, he criticized the death sentences imposed after unfair trials on several Iranian Arabs for their alleged involvement in carrying out bombings in Ahvaz, Khuzestan province, which took place between June and October 2005.
Although his three year prison sentence was later overturned on appeal, Emadeddin Baghi was arrested in October 2007 and made to serve a previously suspended one-year prison term imposed after an unfair trial in 2003. He was released in October 2008, but is still facing possible imprisonment on other charges.
Judicial officials closed down the office of the Association for the Defence of Prisoners' Rights in September 2009. Since its formation, the organisation had been compiling information on torture and other abuses against detainees.
His supporters say that Emadeddin Baghi has the courage to stand up for his conviction that the Qur'an condones neither the death penalty nor arbitrary killings and detention. He has steadfastly tried to make his views public without ever advocating violence.
He and his family have been subject to a barrage of judicial and quasi-judicial measures but the force of his argument, based on religious and academic discourse, has also earned him respect amongst clerics and some of his books and articles have been published in Iran.
At the press conference on Monday in the Palais Eynard in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights presented the award to a representative of Emadeddin Baghi. Opera star Barbara Hendricks also performed in his honour. Exclusive film images were also shown from a film-maker who met Emadeddin Baghi earlier in Iran.
The MEA, a collaboration of 10 of the world's leading human rights organizations, is the award of the whole human rights movement.
The jury is composed of the following NGOs: Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; Human Rights First; International Federation for Human Rights; World Organisation Against Torture; International Commission of Jurists; German Diakonie; International Service for Human Rights; Front Line and HURIDOCS.
Patrons of the Martin Ennals Award are: Louise Arbour; Asma Jahangir; José Ramos-Horta; Theo van Boven; Adama Dieng; Leandro Despouy; Barbara Hendricks; Robert Fulghum and Werner Lottje.