Iran women's activist Narges Mohammadi wins Nobel Peace Prize

Iran women's activist Narges Mohammadi wins Nobel Peace Prize
The head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, has called for Narges Mohammadi's release so she can collect her prize on 10 December.
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Narges Mohammadi has spent her latest stint in prison since November 2021 and in total she has been arrested 13 times [Getty]

The Nobel Peace Prize was on Friday awarded to imprisoned rights campaigner Narges Mohammadi, honoured for her fight 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.

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Mohammadi was honoured "for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all," said Berit Reiss-Andersen, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo.

"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.

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, she called for Mohammadi's release.

"If the Iranian authorities make the right decision, they will release her. So she can be present to receive this honour, which is what we primarily hope for," she said.

The recent protests in Iran "accelerated the process of realising democracy, freedom and equality in Iran," a process that is now "irreversible," Mohammadi told AFP last month in a letter written from her prison cell.

She and three other women held with her at Tehran's Evin prison burned their hijabs to mark the anniversary of Amini's death on September 16.

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 under 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.

No prospect of freedom

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

"This year's Peace Prize also recognises 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."

Amnesty International today stated that "her recognition today by the Nobel Peace committee sends a clear message to the Iranian authorities that their crackdown on peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not go unchallenged."

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The prize comes on the 20th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Ebadi, who was honoured "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.

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 10 December.

The Peace Prize has on several occasions honoured 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.