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UNESCO suspends "dictator prize"

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has "suspended indefinitely" a prize sponsored by Equatorial Guinean President Teodor Obiang Nguema, bowing to pressure from a diverse group of human rights advocates, including IFEX members, journalists, Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and 60 Equatoguinean professionals, report Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

UNESCO's executive board met in Paris on 20 October and decided to put the award on hold "until a consensus is reached."

"The way Teodoro Obiang has governed Equatorial Guinea undermines all the values UNESCO stands for," said Tutu Alicante, head of the pressure group EG Justice, according to a statement from Human Rights Watch."The suspension is a sign that the Obiang government cannot pull the wool over the eyes of the international community with empty human rights public relations campaigns."

Although the suspension wasn't a complete cancellation, it was welcomed by campaigners."We are satisfied that there is almost no chance the prize will ever be awarded," said Joel Simon of CPJ, pointing out that members of the executive board have veto power over the prize.

The prize was created by the board in 2008, and Equatorial Guinea was to finance it for five years for a total of US$3 million.

In a letter sent in August to UNESCO objecting to the prize, 96 organisations, including 34 IFEX members, protested against the free expression conditions in Equatorial Guinea: the press is almost wholly controlled by the state; local journalists working for international media outlets have been targeted with detention or imprisonment; and prepublication censorship and self-censorship are rampant.

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