Activist hopes it strengthens protesters: 'Victory is near'

Imprisoned Iranian women’s rights campaigner Narges Mohammadi wins Nobel Peace Prize

Mohammadi honored ‘for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all’

File: Narges Mohammadi, the Iranian women's rights campaigner imprisoned by Iran who won the Nobel Peace Prize on October 6, 2023. (AFP/Narges Mohammadi Foundation)
File: Narges Mohammadi, the Iranian women's rights campaigner imprisoned by Iran who won the Nobel Peace Prize on October 6, 2023. (AFP/Narges Mohammadi Foundation)

The 2023 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to imprisoned activist Narges Mohammadi for fighting against the oppression of women in Iran.

Mohammadi’s award comes after a wave of protests that swept Iran after the death in custody a year ago of a young Iranian Kurd, Mahsa Amini, arrested for violating Iran’s strict dress rules for women.

Mohammadi, a 51-year-old journalist and activist, has spent much of the past two decades in and out of jail for her campaign against the mandatory hijab for women and the death penalty.

She is the vice-president of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre founded by Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, herself a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 2003.

In a statement to The New York Times, Mohammadi said the “global support and recognition of my human rights advocacy makes me more resolved, more responsible, more passionate and more hopeful.”

“I also hope this recognition makes Iranians protesting for change stronger and more organized,” she added. “Victory is near.”

“This prize is first and foremost a recognition of the very important work of a whole movement in Iran with its undisputed leader, Nargis Mohammadi,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee who announced the prize in Oslo.

Mohammadi was honored “for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all,” said Reiss-Andersen.

“She fights for women against systematic discrimination and oppression.”

“Her brave struggle has come with tremendous personal costs. Altogether, the regime has arrested her 13 times, convicted her five times, and sentenced her to a total of 31 years in prison and 154 lashes,” Reiss-Andersen said in the jury’s citation.

Iranian Narges Mohammadi, delegate of the Center for Human Rights Defenders, listens to a question during a press conference on the Assessment of the Human Rights Situation in Iran, at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 9, 2008 (Magali Girardin/Keystone via AP, File)

Mohammadi recently contributed an opinion piece for The New York Times from behind bars.

“What the government may not understand is that the more of us they lock up, the stronger we become,” she wrote.

She is the 19th woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and the second Iranian woman, after human rights activist Ebadi won the award in 2003.

Mohammadi was behind bars for the recent nationwide protests over the death of 22-year-old Amini, who died after she was detained by the country’s morality police. That sparked one of the most-intense challenges ever to Iran’s theocracy since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. More than 500 people were killed in a heavy security crackdown while over 22,000 others were arrested.

Iranian women fight for rights

Iran is ranked 143rd out of 146 countries on the World Economic Forum’s gender equality ranking.

Iranian authorities cracked down harshly on last year’s “Woman, Life, Freedom” uprising.

A total of 551 protesters, including 68 children and 49 women, were killed by security forces, according to Iran Human Rights, and thousands of others were arrested.

The movement has since continued in other forms.

In what would have been unthinkable a year ago, women now go out in public without the headscarf, in particular in Tehran and other big cities, despite the risks.

Wearing the hijab is one of the pillars of the Islamic Republic.

Authorities have stepped up controls, using surveillance cameras among other things, and have arrested actresses who post pictures of themselves on social media without the hijab.

Iranian women walk in Tehran, Iran, Aug. 5, 2023, without wearing the mandatory hijab. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

‘No prospect of freedom’

In September, Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament announced heavier penalties for women who refuse to wear it.

“This year’s Peace Prize also recognizes the hundreds of thousands of people who in the preceding year have demonstrated against the theocratic regimes policies of discrimination and oppression targeting women,” Reiss-Andersen said.

Offenders will face heavy prison sentences if the “Hijab and Chastity” bill is approved by Iran’s Guardian Council.

Incarcerated this time since November 2021, Mohammadi has not seen her children, who live in France with her husband, for eight years.

Considered a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, she told AFP in her letter that she had “almost no prospect of freedom.”

The prize comes on the 20th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Ebadi, who was honored “for her efforts for democracy and human rights,” especially those of women and children.

This year’s prize also symbolically coincides with the 75th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In 2003, Ebadi defied conservative Iranians by refusing to wear the hijab when she received her prize in Oslo.

People participate in a protest against Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi outside of the United Nations on September 21, 2022 in New York City. Protests have broke out over the death of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody for allegedly violating the country’s hijab rules. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP)

If she remains behind bars, Mohammadi will not be able to make the trip to Oslo to receive her award, consisting of a diploma, a gold medal and $1 million, at the annual prize ceremony on December 10.

The Peace Prize has on several occasions honored jailed activists, including last year when it went to Ales Bialiatski of Belarus, whose prize was accepted by his wife, and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010, whose chair remained empty.

Nobel selection

The winner of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize was chosen by a panel of experts in Norway from a list of just over 350 nominations.

Last year’s prize was won by human rights activists from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, in what was seen as a strong rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart and ally.

The prize can be awarded to individuals or organizations. Other previous winners include Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Aung San Suu Kyi and the United Nations.

Unlike the other Nobel prizes that are selected and announced in Stockholm, founder Alfred Nobel decreed that the peace prize be decided and awarded in Oslo by the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee.

The independent panel is appointed by the Norwegian parliament.

This year, the committee received 351 nominations — 259 for individuals and 92 for organizations. People who can make nominations include former Nobel Peace Prize winners, members of the committee, heads of states, members of parliaments and professors of political science, history and international law.

The peace prize is the fifth of this year’s prizes to be announced. A day earlier, the Nobel committee awarded Norwegian writer Jon Fosse the prize for literature. On Wednesday, the chemistry prize went to US scientists Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus and Alexei Ekimov.

The physics prize went Tuesday to French-Swedish physicist Anne L’Huillier, French scientist Pierre Agostini and Hungarian-born Ferenc Krausz. Hungarian-American Katalin Karikó and American Drew Weissman won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday.

Nobels season ends next week with the announcement of the winner of the economics prize, formally known as the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

The prizes are handed out at awards ceremonies in December in Oslo and Stockholm. They carry a cash award of 11 million Swedish kronor (about $1 million). Winners also receive an 18-carat gold medal and diploma when they collect their Nobel Prizes at the award ceremonies in December.

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