New York: An Iranian journalist and civil rights campaigner, who has been in jail since his country's disputed presidential elections in mid-2009, has been conferred top UN press freedom prize.

Zeidabadi has been charged with plotting to overthrow the government with a 'soft revolution'. Since 2000 he has been frequently jailed because of his work in defending freedom of speech and expression.
An independent jury of 12 media professionals from around the globe voted for Ahmad Zeidabadi to get this year's Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, the UN cultural body UNESCO announced.

Jury president Diana Senghor said, “Awarding of the prize to Zeidabadi 'pays a tribute to his exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression, democracy, human rights, tolerance, and humanity.”

“Beyond him, the prize will be awarded also to those numerous Iranian journalists who are currently jailed” Senghor added.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova met Iran's hardline authorities to release Zeidabadi, who is currently serving a sentence of six years in jail, to be followed by five years of internal exile and a life ban from working as a journalist.

At least 26 other journalists remain in prison following a wave of arrests in the aftermath of Iran's disputed presidential election in June 2009, UNESCO said.

Zeidabadi, a professor of political science, is former editor-in-chief of Azad newspaper and a contributor to Hamshahari, the BBC's Persian-language service and the Persian/English news website Rooz.