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This Year's Nobel Peace Prize Winner Is Fighting Against the Oppression of Women in Iran

This Year's Nobel Peace Prize Winner Is Fighting Against the Oppression of Women in Iran

The 2023 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to jailed Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi for “her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced in Oslo on Friday.

Narges Mohammadi, 51, has been sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, and has been banned from seeing her husband and children.

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(CNN) — The 2023 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to jailed Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi for “her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced in Oslo on Friday.

Mohammadi, 51, has been sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, and has been banned from seeing her husband and children. Her name has become synonymous with the battle for human rights in Iran, where nationwide protests broke out last year following the death of Mahsa Amini. Amini was a 22-year-old woman who had been taken into custody by the regime’s notorious morality police.

In awarding the prize to Mohammadi, the Nobel Committee said it “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.”

“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,” Norwegian Nobel Committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said at the announcement ceremony.

“Ms. Mohammadi is still in prison as I speak,” Reiss-Andersen added.

Mohammadi said she will continue striving for “democracy, freedom, and equality” in a message shared with CNN by her family on Wednesday, to be released in case she won the prize.

It is not clear whether Mohammadi knows about her win. Her friends and family told CNN that those detained in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison are not allowed to receive calls on Thursdays and Fridays.

In the statement, Mohammadi said she would stay in Iran to continue her activism “even if I spend the rest of my life in prison.”

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

Taghi Rahmani, Mohammadi’s husband, told CNN that the prize is “for all the people of Iran.” Rahmani, a fellow activist and former political prisoner who served a total of 14 years in regime jails, lives in exile in France with their twin children.

“This prize is not just for Narges; it is for all the people of Iran. A movement in which Iranian women and men took to the streets, stood for months, and fought to show that they will continue to struggle for democracy and civil equality,” Rahmani said.

In a separate statement to CNN, Mohammadi’s family said: “Although the years of her absence can never be compensated for us, the reality is that the honor of recognizing Narges’ efforts for peace is a source of solace for our indescribable suffering.
“It has been more than eight and a half years since she has seen her children, and she has not heard their voices for over a year. All of this signifies what she has endured on the path to realizing her aspirations. Therefore, for us, who know that the Nobel Peace Prize will aid her in achieving her goals, this day is a blessed day,” the family statement added.

Incarcerated, but not silenced

Despite being jailed, not even the dark cells of Tehran’s Evin Prison have crushed Mohammadi’s powerful voice.

In an audio recording from inside the jail, shared with CNN ahead of Friday’s announcement, Mohammadi, is heard leading the chants of “woman, life, freedom” – the slogan of the uprising sparked last year by Amini’s death. Amini was arrested for allegedly not wearing her headscarf properly.

The recording is interrupted by a brief automated message – “This is a phone call from Evin Prison” – as the women are heard singing a Farsi rendition of “Bella Ciao,” the 19th-century Italian folk song that became a resistance anthem against fascism and has been adopted by Iran’s freedom movement.

“This period was and still is the era of greatest protest in this prison,” Mohammadi told CNN in written responses to questions submitted through intermediaries.

Mohammadi was one of 351 candidates for this year’s award – the second-highest number in the history of the Nobels. She became the 19th woman to win the award in more than 120 years of the prize.

Oleksandra Matviichuk, a Ukrainian human rights lawyers who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022, commended the committee’s decision to honor Mohammadi.

“We live in a very interconnected world. Right now, people in Iran are fighting for freedom. Our future depends on their success,” Matviichuk posted on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

At Friday’s news conference announcing the award, Reiss-Andersen said: “Only by embracing equal rights for all can the world achieve the fraternity between nations that Alfred Nobel sought to promote,”

“The award to Narges Mohammadi follows a long tradition in which the Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Peace Prize to those working to advance social justice, human rights and democracy. These are important preconditions for lasting peace,” she added.

‘Woman, life, freedom’

Henrik Urdal, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, described Mohammadi’s win as “a tremendous achievement for women’s rights in Iran.”

“Women in the country have been fighting for equality and freedom for generations, and the death of Mahsa Amini became a catalyst against oppression and violence,” Urdal said in a statement to CNN.

“Today’s laureate, unfairly jailed in Tehran, sends a powerful message to the leaders of Iran that women’s rights are fundamental everywhere in the world,” he said.

Mohammadi’s recognition comes after a year of huge upheaval in Iran, sparked by Amini’s death, which swelled into nationwide protests lasting months. Reiss-Andersen described the unrest as “the largest political demonstrations against Iran’s theocratic regime since it came to power in 1979.”

They were met by a brutal government crackdown. “More than 500 demonstrators were killed. Thousands were injured, including many who were blinded by rubber bullets fired by the police. At least 20,000 people were arrested and held in custody,” Reiss-Andersen said.

Last month marked the one-year anniversary of Amini’s death. Video obtained by CNN showed further demonstrations throughout multiple cities in Iran, including capital Tehran, Mashad, Ahvaz, Lahijan, Arak and the Kurdish city of Senandaj.

Many of the protesters shouted “Woman, Life, Freedom,” and others chanted slogans against Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The long road to the Nobel

Mohammadi, who studied for a degree in physics at Imam Khomeini International University in the 1990s, initially worked as an engineer, while writing columns for reformist Iranian newspapers, Berit Reiss-Andersen said at Friday’s news conference.

In 2003, she joined the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran, an organization founded by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Mohammadi was arrested for the first time in 2011 and convicted in part because of her membership of the Defenders of Human Rights Center. After being released on bail two years later, Mohammadi began to campaign against the use of the death penalty.

“Iran has long been among the countries that execute the highest proportion of their inhabitants annually,” the committee acknowledged. Since January last year, more than 860 prisoners have been punished by death in the country.

Mohammadi was arrested and sentenced again in 2015 for her activism against capital punishment. But her work continued from inside Evin, as she began to oppose human rights abuses committed against political prisoners.

CNN reported last year on how Iran’s security forces used rape to quell the protests that broke out after the death of Amini.

With media access inside Iran severely constrained, CNN went to the region near Iraq’s border with Iran, interviewing eyewitnesses who had left the country and verifying accounts from survivors and sources both in and outside Iran, to corroborate several reports of sexual violence against protesters.

One Kurdish-Iranian woman, whom CNN is calling Hana for her safety, says she both witnessed and suffered sexual violence while detained. “There were girls who were sexually assaulted and then transferred to other cities,” she said.

Iranian officials did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on the alleged abuses.

Read the full story here: How Iran’s security forces use rape to quell protests

Since the anniversary of Amini’s death, Iran has continued its crackdown on women’s rights. Its parliament passed draconian new legislation in September, imposing much harsher penalties on women who breach hijab laws. The so-called “hijab bill,” which will be enacted for a three-year trial period, sets out various regulations around the wearing of clothing, which if violated can carry up to 10 years in prison.

UN experts said the new law could amount to “gender apartheid.”

“Authorities appear to be governing through systemic discrimination with the intention of suppressing women and girls into total submission,” the experts said in a statement.

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