7 March 2012

Joint action

Twenty-three African press freedom groups and journalists urge UNESCO to abolish Obiang prize

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(MFWA/IFEX) - The following letter is signed by 23 African press freedom organisations and journalists urging UNESCO's Executive Board to abolish the Obiang prize:

February 29, 2012

Members of the Executive Board
The United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO)
UNESCO Headquarters
7, Place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris 07 SP

Cc: Director-General Irina Bokova

RE: UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences

Dear Executive Board Delegates,

We, the undersigned Africa-based press freedom organizations and journalists, write to express our firm opposition to the UNESCO Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences and to call on you to revoke the prize at your upcoming session.

UNESCO, as an organization that champions freedom of expression and promotes press freedom in particular, should never have accepted the $3 million donation that President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea made to fund a prize. President Obiang's regime, in power for 32 years, has routinely stifled press freedom and silenced critical voices. Although a small percentage of the local population is able to access foreign news via internet and satellite broadcasts, the government tightly controls most forms of media, limiting citizens' access to information. The government or members of President Obiang's family control the country's television and radio stations, and all regularly produced print media are controlled by the state or the president's close associates.

Both domestic and foreign journalists are routinely harassed, detained, and censored. In February 2011, the government banned local broadcasters from reporting on the Arab Spring uprisings. A presenter of the state-controlled radio station was subsequently suspended for mentioning Libya on air. In June 2011, a German television crew had their footage destroyed by authorities before being deported from the country, after filming in poor neighborhoods of the capital and interviewing a human rights lawyer and an opposition party member.

We understand that President Obiang has offered to remove his name from the prize, but that does not erase our serious concern that his $3 million donation links him and the abuses of his government to UNESCO, thereby undercutting the organization's worthy mission. We also are aware of concerns that the funds may be tainted by the high-level corruption for which Equatorial Guinea is well-known. It is public record that ongoing corruption investigations in France and the U.S. have led to the seizure of assets belonging to President Obiang's son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue. Documents released as part of separate investigations by the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Department of Justice suggest a pattern of systematic corruption at the highest levels of President Obiang's regime. Unfortunately, journalists inside the country are not able to report on these developments, given the severe restrictions they face.

As an organization that advocates “access to information and knowledge,” UNESCO should not accept money from a leader whose decades-long record represents an affront to those principles. We urge you to definitively abolish the UNESCO Obiang prize and implement new guidelines that will prevent in the future the creation of prizes that directly or indirectly, through their association with individuals or governments, contradict UNESCO's core mandate.


Donat Mbaya, President
Tshivis T. Tshivuadi, Secretary General
Journaliste en danger (JED)
(Democratic Republic of Congo)

West African Journalists Association

Trevor Ncube
Executive Deputy Chairman & C.E.O. of the Mail & Guardian newspaper
Chairman of Alpha Media Holdings

Gabriel Baglo
Director, International Federation of Journalists Africa Office

M. Omar Faruk Osman Nur
President, Federation of African Journalists

Cheriff Moumina Sy
Chairperson, African Editors' Forum

Makan Kone
President, Maison de la Presse du Mali

Stéphane Goué
Secretary General, Comité Ivoirien pour la Protection des Journalistes
(Cote d’Ivoire)

Alex Gustave Azébazé
Secretary General, Syndicat national des journalistes du Cameroun

Fatou Jagne Senghore
Regional Representative, ARTICLE 19 West Africa

Célestin Lingo
Secretary General, Réseau Médias pour les Elections

Kader Diop
Retired Journalist

Kenneth Y. Best, Sr.
Managing Director, Liberian Observer Corporation

Gwen Lister
Founding Editor of The Namibian

William Saidi
Retired journalist

Boubacar Diallo
President, la Maison de la presse du Niger
President, l'Association nigérienne des éditeurs de la presse indépendant

Stanis Nkundiye Angalikiyana
President, L’Union des Syndicats des Professionnels de la Presse d’Afrique Centrale
(Central African Republic)

Peta Thornycroft
Freelance journalist

Kwame Karikari
Executive Director, Media Foundation of West Africa

Andrew Mwenda
Managing Editor of The Independent

Fred M’membe
Editor in Chief of The Post

Raymond Louw
Veteran journalist
Former Editor of Rand Daily Mail and Southern Africa Report
(South Africa)

Rafael Marques de Morais
Award-winning investigative journalist and human rights activist
Equatorial Guinea
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At this point, would publish: "UNESCO director-general urged to cancel Obiang prize"
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At this point, would publish: "Disappointing vote by UNESCO on Obiang prize"
At this point, would publish: "Thirty IFEX members call on UNESCO to refuse funds from one of Africa's worst violators of press freedom, Equatorial Guinea"
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