Jailed Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi wins Nobel Peace Prize

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Narges Mohammad

Narges Mohammadi, the most prominent jailed Iranian women’s rights advocate, has won the 2023 Nobel peace prize for fighting the oppression of women in the country.

“The Norwegian Nobel committee has decided to award the 2023 Nobel peace prize to Narges Mohammadi for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all,” the committee said in its citation.

Mohammadi is one of Iran’s leading human rights activists, who has campaigned for women’s rights and the abolition of the death penalty and an improvement of prison conditions inside Iran.

The award will be viewed as a tribute to the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in Iran that rocked the clerical establishment last year, but has been suppressed with many activists either killed or in jail.

The protests were sparked by the death in police custody of the young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini after she had been arrested for not wearing the hijab in line with state rules. The conflict over the wearing of the hijab continues.

Mohammadi is serving multiple sentences in Tehran’s Evin prison amounting to about 12 years’ imprisonment, according to the rights organisation Front Line Defenders, the latest of the many periods she has been detained. Charges against her include spreading propaganda against the state.

She is also the deputy head of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, a non-governmental organisation led by Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel peace prize laureate. The committee added: “Her courageous fight has come at a great personal cost.” In recent years, Mohammadi has not been able to live with her family, who were forced to leave Iran.

The chair of the Norwegian Nobel peace prize committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, speaks during the announcement of the prize at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo
The chair of the Norwegian Nobel peace prize committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, speaks during the announcement of the prize at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo on Friday. Photograph: Terje Pedersen/NTB/AFP/Getty Images

She has been active from within prison, warning of nationwide protests by publishing letters about the state of prisons and detention centres and violence against prisoners and detainees.

Mohammadi’s brother, Hamidreza, said he was overjoyed after waking up to the news of his sister’s Nobel peace prize. He told the Norwegian broadcaster NRK that he hoped the prize would make activists’ lives safer in Iran.

“We hope it will be safer for those in Iran. The situation there is very dangerous, activists there can lose their lives,” he said.

Describing waking up to the news of his sister’s award, he said: “The joy is so great. I am so happy on behalf of Narges.”

In mid-December last year, in a letter to Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Mohammadi described “assaults against women during detention and in detention centres” as “part of the repression programme” of the Islamic Republic against female protesters and fighters.

In a message published on the anniversary of Amini’s death, she described it as “the day of recording the oppression of the religious authoritarian regime against the women of Iran”. Mohammadi is also one of the women calling for the UN to widen the definition of crimes against humanity to include gender apartheid.

For refusing to be silenced behind bars, she has been banned from speaking directly with her husband and children for the past 18 months.

“When your wife and the closest person to you is in prison, every single day you wake up worried that you might hear bad news,” her husband, Taghi Rahmani, told CNN in a recent interview in France, where he has lived in exile with their children since shortly after Mohammadi was imprisoned in 2015.

After Ebadi, Mohammadi is the second Iranian woman to receive the Nobel peace prize. No Iranian man has received the award. Mohammadi is the 19th woman to win the 122-year-old prize and the first since Maria Ressa of the Philippines won the award in 2021 jointly with Russia’s Dmitry Muratov.

The Nobel peace prize, worth 11m Swedish crowns (£819,000), will be presented in Oslo on 10 December, the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist who founded the awards in his 1895 will.

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