Winners of the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award 2011

Freedom of expression was one of the first victories of the Arab Spring. In Tunisia, the media are now enjoying a new sense of freedom. After years of harsh censorship, Tunisian journalists can now speak freely and do their job in far better conditions.

Alongside journalists, there were also human rights defenders, bloggers, teachers and lawyers. Radhia Nasraoui was one of these lawyers.

During the dictatorship, she was one of the strongest independent voices in the country. She never stopped telling the truth, even when her husband was in hiding or when she was threatened with prison or even death. She defended many journalists and intellectuals put on trial for expressing their opinions. Without this legal assistance, the Tunisian Spring could not have occurred.

We recently opened an office in Tunisia. During the Ben Ali years, we were not welcome in Tunisia. All we could do was denounce the censorship and authoritarianism. Now we intend to help the authorities overhaul the entire media sector. Reforming media law, regulating radio and TV stations, supporting pluralism and defending the principle of respect for the most diverse opinions – these will be the bureau’s main tasks. We are convinced that journalists who are professional, free and aware of their role are the first line of defense against a return to dictatorship.

Gamal Eid in Egypt and Mazen Darwish in Syria have also contributed to the Arab revolutions with the same strength and commitment to freedom. We need to support them and encourage them to continue their fight. Nothing is over yet. In Egypt, bloggers are still being jailed for criticizing the army and the country’s new rulers.

In Syria, the situation is far more worrying. Dozens of journalists, writers and bloggers have gone missing. We recently reiterated our concern about the fate of journalists and bloggers who have disappeared or who have been kidnapped in the past few months of protests against Bashar Al-Assad’s government. The list keeps getting longer. We have urged the authorities to stop the arrests and abductions, which are tantamount to enforced disappearances. We have also called on them to provide reliable information about all those being held for exercising their right to free speech, and to release them without delay.

I am delighted that all three will receive this wonderful award. They deserve it more than anyone. I hope it will help them to continue their efforts. And I am sure more and more people will listen to them recount their plight. The Arab Spring, which Tunisia started, has brought incredible changes throughout the region. But much remains to be done to safeguard what has been won in these revolutions.

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