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Refuse President's donation, press freedom groups tell UNESCO

Thirty IFEX members joined the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) last week in calling for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to refuse US$3 million donated by Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang - one of Africa's worst violators of press freedom - to set up an international prize in life sciences.

In a joint letter on 20 May to Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, the IFEX members called attention to the alarming state of press freedom in Equatorial Guinea, where the local press is almost totally controlled by the state.

Recalling the speech made by Bokova at UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day ceremony this year in Brisbane, Australia, when she denounced the fact that "countless journalists all over the world continue to endure harassment, intimidation, or physical assault in the course of defending our right to know," the groups said these words will ring hollow if UNESCO accepts the money.

The letter states, "We believe that that implementation of this prize will do grave damage to UNESCO's credibility as an organisation that promotes freedom of expression."

In a separate joint letter led by Human Rights Watch, other civil society groups expressed outrage that UNESCO would accept money from Obiang, whom they called a "corrupt dictator" for ruling a country where over 75 percent of its people live in poverty. Bokova responded to Human Rights Watch on 5 May stating that plans to administer the prize were still going ahead at the urging of UNESCO's Executive Board.

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