Jailed Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi wins the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting women’s oppression

Prominent Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, center, sits next to Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, left, while attending a meeting on women's rights in 2007 in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

This photo taken in 2021 shows Narges Mohammadi in Tehran, Iran. Imprisoned Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023 in recognition of her tireless campaigning for women's rights and democracy and against the death penalty. (Reihane Taravati via AP)

Imprisoned Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in recognition of her tireless campaigning for women’s rights and democracy, and against the death penalty.

Mohammadi, 51, has kept up her activism despite numerous arrests by Iranian authorities and spending years behind bars. She has remained a leading light for nationwide, women-led protests sparked by the death last year of a 22-year-old woman in police custody that have grown into one of the most intense challenges to Iran’s theocratic government.

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Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, began Friday’s announcement with the words “Woman, Life, Freedom” in Farsi — the slogan of the demonstrations in Iran.

“This prize is first and foremost a recognition of the very important work of a whole movement in Iran with its undisputed leader, Narges Mohammadi,” Reiss-Andersen said. She also urged Iran to release Mohammadi in time for the prize ceremony on Dec. 10.

For nearly all of Mohammadi’s life, Iran has been governed by a Shiite theocracy headed by the country’s supreme leader. While women hold jobs, academic positions and even government appointments, their lives are tightly controlled. Women are required by law to wear a headscarf, or hijab, to cover their hair. Iran and neighboring Afghanistan remain the only countries to mandate that.

In a statement released after the Nobel announcement, Mohammadi said she will “never stop striving for the realization of democracy, freedom and equality.”

“Surely, the Nobel Peace Prize will make me more resilient, determined, hopeful and enthusiastic on this path, and it will accelerate my pace,” she said in the statement, prepared in advance in case she was named the Nobel laureate.

An engineer by training, Mohammadi has been imprisoned 13 times and convicted five. In total, she has been sentenced to 31 years in prison. Her most recent incarceration began when she was detained in 2021 after attending a memorial for a person killed in nationwide protests.

She has been held at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, whose inmates include those with Western ties and political prisoners.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Amnesty International joined calls for Mohammadi’s immediate release.

“This award is a recognition that, even as she is currently and unjustly held in Evin Prison, the world still hears the clarion voice of Narges Mohammadi calling for freedom and equality,” Biden said in a statement. “I urge the government in Iran to immediately release her and her fellow gender equality advocates from captivity.”

Friday’s prize sends “a clear message to the Iranian authorities that their crackdown on peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not go unchallenged,” Amnesty said.

Mohammadi’s brother, Hamidreza Mohammadi, said that while “the prize means that the world has seen this movement,” it will not affect the situation in Iran.

“The regime will double down on the opposition” he told The Associated Press. “They will just crush people.”

Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani, who lives in exile in Paris with their two children, 16-year-old twins, said his wife “has a sentence she always repeats: ‘Every single award will make me more intrepid, more resilient and more brave for realizing human rights, freedom, civil equality and democracy.’”

Rahmani hasn’t been able to see his wife for 11 years, and their children haven’t seen their mother for seven, he said.

Their son, Ali Rahmani, said the Nobel was not just for his mother: “It’s for the struggle.”

“This prize is for the entire population, for the whole struggle from the beginning, since the Islamic government came to power,” the teen said.

Women political prisoners in Evin aren’t allowed to use the phone on Thursday and Friday, so Mohammadi prepared her statement in advance of the Nobel announcement, said exiled Iranian photographer Reihane Taravati, a family friend who spent 14 days in solitary confinement there before fleeing to France this year.

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

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