On Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi has won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Mohammadi was a known advocate against the use of capital punishment in Iran and the oppression of women.
The news comes as she serves a sentence of 31 years in prison and faces 154 lashes on charges that include spreading propaganda against the state. This is not the first time that Mohammadi has been imprisoned. In 2011, she was arrested and convicted, partly due to her affiliation with the Defenders of Human Rights Center. After receiving bail in 2013, she began advocating against the death penalty and was subsequently sentenced again in 2015.
However, this has not deterred Mohammadi from her fight for human rights. While in Evin prison, she spoke out against the abuse of political prisoners. These claims may be supported by reports of Iranian security forces using rape as a means to suppress protests following the uprising triggered by the untimely death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police, allegedly for failing to adhere to the State’s dress code for women.
The national uprising lasted for months, during which according to Norwegian Nobel Committee Chair Reiss-Andersen, “more than 500 demonstrators were killed, thousands were injured, including many who were blinded by rubber bullets fired by the police, and at least 20,000 people were arrested and held in custody.”
Throughout her ordeal, Mohammadi consistently echoed the slogan of the uprising, “women, life, and freedom,” She reportedly conveyed to CNN through intermediaries, “This period was, and still is, the era of the greatest protest in this prison.”
Yet while she fights the good fight, in the words of the Norwegian Nobel Committee chair, it has indubitably come at a "tremendous personal cost”. She has been banned from seeing her husband and children, but Mohammadi's family remain supportive of her struggle. Her husband Taghi Rahmani told Reuters, "This Nobel Prize will embolden Narges' fight for human rights, but more importantly, this is, in fact, a prize for the 'women, life, and freedom' movement." Mohammadi's brother Hamidreza Mohammed told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK that he hoped it would make Iranian campaigners safer. "The situation there is very dangerous, activists there can lose their lives."
She has received a string of commendations from different entities around the world, acknowledging the struggle for human rights in Iran. Notably, US President Joe Biden called for her release and in a statement, said, “The United States will continue working to support Iranians’ ability to advocate for their own future, for freedom of expression, for gender equality, and to end gender-based violence against women and girls everywhere.”
Henrik Urdal, the Director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, commented to Al Jazeera, saying that it was “a very important prize, one that is celebrating the achievements of human rights defenders, specifically women’s rights defenders in Iran, which has been a very troubled country”.
“This is a prize that is also focusing on the sacrifices of young people in Iran. It is a way of underlining their sacrifices and the challenges human rights defenders are operating under in Iran.”
U.N. Human Rights Office spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell also said, “We've seen their courage and determination in the face of reprisals, intimidation, violence and detention…They've been harassed for what they do or don't wear. There are increasingly stringent legal, social and economic measures against them. So, we would absolutely say that this really is something that really highlights the courage and determination of the women of Iran and how they are an inspiration to the world.”
The win comes from a pool of 351 candidates, making her the 19th woman to receive the prestigious award. However, as Dan Smith, the Head of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute think tank, pointed out to Reuters, while such a prize may ease State pressure on Iranian protesters, it may not result in her release.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson referred to the prize as a “political move in line with the interventionist and anti-Iranian policies of some European governments.” The Ministry reiterated in a statement to state media that it was awarded to “ a person convicted of repeated law violations and criminal acts, and we condemn this as biased and politically motivated.”
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