By SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Associated Press Writer
Thu May 1, 2:25 PM ET
But Anwar al-Bunni has yet to hear of the accolade. The 49-year-old lawyer has been imprisoned since May 2006 after Syrian President Bashar Assad launched a crackdown against opposition voices demanding greater freedoms.
Irish President Mary McAleese presented the annual Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk to al-Bunni's wife, Ragheda Issa Refki, at a Dublin City Hall ceremony attended by politicians and ambassadors. Refki received two standing ovations, as well as a hug from the Irish head of state.
McAleese said promoting human rights in a one-party state like Syria was "a very, very lonely place. It takes a very, very special person like Anwar al-Bunni to confront the extraordinary range of forces arrayed against him."
She expressed hope that the award would "send a message to his oppressors."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Refki said she did not risk telling her husband he had won the prize during their most recent prison visit a week ago because a guard, as usual, was standing beside them. She hopes to tell him of his honor next week.
"It is very important for Anwar's work and sacrifice to be recognized, for him to be seen as a defender of human rights. It will remind the world there are prisoners of conscience in Syria," Refki said through an Arabic translator.
Al-Bunni gained prominence in the 1990s by defending opponents of the Syrian regime and helping to organize a group called the Free Political Prisoners Committee.
He was arrested in 2006 after joining about 500 Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals in signing the so-called "Damascus Declaration," which challenged the Syrian government to improve ties with neighboring Lebanon.
He is due for release in May 2011.
Since entering prison, al-Bunni has kept promoting political freedom, authoring hypothetical legislative bills that spell out how opposition political parties and elections should be organized.
After their publication, Refki said, guards "confiscated all his writing materials and said he was not permitted to write."
She said her husband is kept in a room with more than 30 other prisoners, among them convicted killers, but is kept separate from any inmates convicted of political offenses.
Front Line is a Dublin-based group founded in 2001 to provide support for human rights activists operating in dangerous situations.