Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi receives Nobel Peace Prize | ET REALITY

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Narges Mohammadi, Iran’s most prominent human rights activist and an inmate at the country’s notorious Evin prison, was awarded the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, in an effort by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to support women’s rights in Iran. .

Mohammadi, 51, has spent most of the last decade in and out of prison, accused of “spreading anti-state propaganda” and is currently serving a 10-year sentence, part of Iran’s long campaign to silence and punish her. for her activism.

But even from inside prison, where she has suffered serious health problems, including a heart attack, she remains one of the most outspoken critics of Iran’s government.

In response to a major women-led uprising that shook Iran last year after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old, died in the custody of the country’s morality police, she organized prison protests, wrote op-eds and led weekly workshops. for prisoners about their rights.

As of Friday afternoon, Mohammadi had not yet been able to call his family or friends to discuss the award. In a statement his family issued on his behalf if he won the prize, he vowed to remain in Iran even if it meant spending the rest of his life in captivity.

“By the side of the brave mothers of Iran,” she said, “I will continue to fight against the relentless discrimination, tyranny and gender oppression by the oppressive religious government until the liberation of women.”

On Thursday he gave a written statement to the New York Times from Evin prison in Tehran, where hundreds of political prisoners and dissidents are being held.

“I also hope that this recognition will make Iranians protesting for change stronger and more organized,” he said. “Victory is near.”

The Nobel committee said this year’s prize also recognized the hundreds of thousands of people who have “demonstrated against the Iranian theocratic regime’s policies of discrimination and oppression against women.”

But he specifically singled out Ms. Mohammadi. “Her fight for it has come at a tremendous personal cost,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, who heads the committee.

“She supports the fight of women for the right to live a full and dignified life,” he added. “This struggle, throughout Iran, has been met with persecution, imprisonment, torture and even death.”

Iranian authorities did not react publicly to the news of Ms. Mohammadi’s award as night fell in Tehran. State-affiliated media and analysts close to the government dismissed the award as a Western plot to provoke more unrest.

But his family, human rights activists and others celebrated, many of them from abroad. “We want the voice of the Iranian people to be amplified from within,” said Taghi Rahmani, her husband and prominent political activist now living in Paris.

“Narges Mohammadi epitomizes the bravery of Iranian women who defy government repression to insist on their rights,” said Kenneth Roth, who was executive director of Human Rights Watch for two decades before leaving last year. “He even treats prison as an opportunity to document and publicize that repression.”

She added: “The brutality of the authorities has proven no match for the determination of so many Iranian women like Narges to break the retrograde restrictions of the clerics.”

For many, the joy was tempered by fear for Ms. Mohammadi’s well-being after so many years in prison.

Ms. Mohammadi’s 30-year effort to peacefully change Iran through education, advocacy and civil disobedience has long separated her from her family. Rahmani lives in France with the couple’s 16-year-old twins, Ali and Kiana, who have not seen their mother for eight years.

Ali said he learned the news of the award while he was at school on Friday, checking his phone under his desk. “I couldn’t scream in class, but I was very happy,” she said later, in the family’s Paris apartment. “We fear for my mother every day. The Nobel Prize is a sign for her to move forward, to not give up the fight.”

Rahmani said her daughter, Kiana, told her: “I just love my mom; “I want her back with us.”

For years, Mrs. Mohammadi has said she firmly believes that change must come from within Iran through the development of a strong civil society, which is why she has refused to leave, even when her husband fled to avoid persecution.

Her activism has focused not only on Iran’s hijab law, which requires women and girls to cover their hair and bodies, but also on violence and sexual harassment against women, the situation of women under the strictly religious government and the rights of those sentenced to death. . He has also called for Iran to abandon the Islamic Republic’s government and become a democracy.

The family has expressed hope that international attention will eventually persuade Iranian authorities to release Ms. Mohammadi. But in the short term, Rahmani said, her family expects Iran to increase pressure on her in captivity along with an official pose of dismissing her award.

The Nobel Committee has occasionally awarded its Peace Prize to people in prison, including last year when Ales Bialiatski, now 61, shared it with other human rights activists while awaiting trial in Belarus.

Ms. Mohammadi is the 19th woman to be selected for the award since its creation in 1901, and the second Iranian woman to win it. Shirin Ebadi, a human rights lawyer and Ms. Mohammadi’s long-time mentor and colleague, won in 2003. The two women worked together in Iran at the Center for Human Rights Defenders, which Ms. Ebadi founded.

“I hope it will help Narges and other political prisoners get out of prison and bring freedom and democracy to all Iranians,” Ms. Ebadi said on Friday.

“The world must watch Iran,” he added.

Ms. Mohammadi was born in the city of Zanjan, central Iran, to a middle-class family. Her path to activism began with two memories from her childhood: her mother filling a red plastic basket with fruit each week for her prison visits with Ms. Mohammadi’s uncle. ; and her mother sitting on the floor near the television to hear the names of the prisoners executed each day.

She studied physics in college, where she quickly became involved in activism, founding a women’s hiking group and another on civic engagement. She also met Mr. Rahmani, a well-known figure in Iran’s intellectual circles, while attending an underground class he taught on civil society. She moved to Tehran after graduating and began a career as a civil engineer and human rights activist.

The government forced her employer to fire her in 2008 and banned her from working in engineering.

Ms. Mohammadi is the author of “white torture”, a book that documents through interviews the psychological torture and abuse of prisoners in Iran. Earlier this year, she won PEN America’s Barbey Freedom to Write Award. The United Nations also named her one of three winners of the World Press Freedom Prize.

Their activism took on renewed urgency last year, after the death of Amini, who was in the custody of the morality police, sparked a national uprising against the Islamic Republic.

The government responded with brutal force, killing at least 500 protesters, including children and teenagers. The United Nations estimated that some 20,000 Iranians were arrested and the protests slowly subsided over many months.

Mohammadi remained defiant as prisons filled with Iranians accused of participating in the protests. “What the government may not understand is that the more they lock us up, the stronger we become,” he wrote in an essay published by The Times last month.

And he added: “All of them, regardless of how they were arrested, had one demand: to overthrow the regime of the Islamic Republic.”

Aaron Boxerman and Juliette Guéron-Gabrielle contributed with reports.

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