European Parliament President Martin Schulz on Friday said a controversial parliamentary visit to Iran depended on the European delegates’ free access to recipients of the body’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

“If the Iranian authorities prevent a meeting with the winners, delegates of the European Parliament will immediately interrupt their trip and will leave Iran,” he warned. The parliamentarians are to be carrying letters of congratulations, which they hope to deliver during their visit.

The European Parliament earlier Friday awarded two Iranians its annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and Schulz said that the five MEPs would cut short the trip if they were not allowed to meet with the two recipients.

Two Iranian activists, lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and film director Jafar Panahi, were chosen for the prize by Schulz and political group leaders on Friday morning. Sotoudeh, a mother of two, is currently on a hunger strike in prison.

Panahi, a filmmaker belonging to the “Iranian new wave” movement, was arrested in 2010 along with his wife, daughter and friends and charged with propaganda against the regime. He was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from making films for 20 years.

Dissenting Iranian film director Jafar Panahi. (photo credit: CC-BY-SA, Cines del Sur, flickr)

Dissenting Iranian film director Jafar Panahi. (photo credit: CC-BY-SA, Cines del Sur, flickr)

Sotoudeh, a leading human rights lawyer, has represented imprisoned opposition members; she too was arrested in 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda.

Schulz called the award, awarded annually since 1988 in honor of the Soviet scientist and dissident, “a message of solidarity and recognition to a woman and a man who have not been bowed by fear and intimidation and who have decided to put the fate of their country before their own. I sincerely hope they will be able to come in person to Strasbourg to the European Parliament to collect their prize in December,” he said, referring to the 50,000 euro sum.

The delegation of five left-leaning MEPs is to be led by Finnish Green Tarja Cronberg, who said earlier Friday that she hoped to meet the two winners. Cronberg noted that she had cut meetings from the group’s itinerary with people on the EU’s Iran sanctions list, such as Iranian chief justice Sadegh Larijani, even though she personally believes the EU sanctions do not work. Her colleague from Germany, Cornelia Ernst, earlier reiterated her intention to go through with the visit, calling sanctions “stupid.”

The planned visit to Iran has been criticized by centre-right MEPs, US politicians, Israeli leaders and Jewish lobby groups as harming international efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear activities. The EU recently adopted strengthened sanctions as part of this effort, critics of the visit have pointed out. Several MEPs dropped out of the delegation during the past week, explaining that the visit would send mixed signals.