Nobel Peace Prize awarded to jailed Iranian activist for 'fight against oppression of women'

By Isaac M October 6, 2023

Jailed Iranian women’s rights activist Narges Mohammadi has won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2023.

The 51-year-old campaigner was given the award “for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all”.

The award also recognised the hundreds of thousands of people who have demonstrated against Iranian discrimination and oppression of women.

Responding to the news of the award, she vowed to be “more resilient, determined, hopeful and enthusiastic”.

“I will never stop striving for the realisation of democracy, freedom and equality,” she said in a statement to the New York Times.

“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 added.

Her family said in a statement that while the honour could “never compensate” them for the time she had spent imprisoned, it was a “source of solace for our indescribable suffering”.

Who is Narges Mohammadi?

Ms Mohammadi is one of Iran’s leading human rights activists, and has also campaigned against the country’s death penalty.

She has been in prison almost continually over the last 13 years, having been jailed for 11 years in 2011 for “acting against the national security”.

That sentence was for her work with the Iranian human rights group, Defenders of Human Rights Center, of which she is vice-president.

In 2016, she was jailed for 16 years by an Iranian court for “establishing and running the illegal splinter group” Legam – which opposed the death penalty.

Her imprisonment prompted condemnation from the international community at the time.

During her sentence, she was reported to have gone on hunger strike with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe while serving with the British-Iranian national in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

She was released in October 2020, but was arrested in November last year after she attended a memorial for a victim of violent 2019 protests.

Convicted five times and sentenced to a total of 31 years in prison across her life, she is currently in jail for “spreading propaganda”.

‘Great personal cost’

Her struggle has come “at great personal cost”, the Nobel committee said in announcing Ms Mohammadi as the 2023 Peace Prize winner in Oslo on Friday.

“She fights for women against systematic discrimination and oppression,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

“This prize is first and foremost a recognition of the very important work of a whole movement in Iran with its undisputed leader, Nargis Mohammadi,” she added.

“The impact of the prize is not for the Nobel committee to decide upon. We hope that it is an encouragement to continue the work in whichever form this movement finds to be fitting.”

Ms Mohammadi’s husband, the exiled Iranian campaigner Taghi Ramahi, said in an interview at his home in Paris that the prize would “embolden Narges’ fight for human rights”.

“But more importantly, this is in fact a prize for the woman, life and freedom (movement),” he added, making reference to the phrase popularised in Iran during protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody last year.

Meanwhile, Iran’s state controlled news agency, Fars, reported Ms Mohammadi’s award as coming from “the Westerners” and described her as someone who “had made headlines multiple times due to her acts against the national security”.

Iranian authorities have yet to comment.

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In and out of jail since she was first arrested in 1998, Nagres Mohammadi has become a symbol of resistance in this autocratic nation.

Her many years of struggle and imprisonment have earned her the respect of women’s rights groups, ethnic minorities, religious minorities and prisoners in Iran’s jails.

Despite her incarceration, she has been active in prison – organising inmates and writing a letter about the sexual and physical abuse of female detainees who were arrested during the country’s recent women-led protests.

These demonstrations – triggered by the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last September – represent the most formidable challenge to the Iranian government in years.

The regime has launched a vicious crackdown which has seen hundreds of participants killed and an estimated 20,000 demonstrators arrested.

Iranian authorities have not commented on Mohammadi’s award. But the Fars news agency, which is closely linked to the regime, said the activist had “received her prize from the Westerners” and accused the activist of creating headlines “due to her acts against national security”.

Hardliner Mohammed Marandi, who has a track record defending the regime, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter: “The West has failed in its regime change operation, and this will change nothing.

“It only shows how different entities in the West are interlinked.”

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

Other previous winners of the award include South Africa’s anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela, former US president Barack Obama and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.

Last year’s winner was Belarusian dissident, Ales Bialiatski, along with the Russian human rights group Memorial and the Ukrainian group, Centre for Civil Liberties.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said on Friday that the decision to give this year’s award to Ms Mohammadi “highlighted the courage and determination of Iranian women”.

“They’ve been harassed for what they do or don’t wear. There are increasingly stringent legal, social and economic measures against them,” said OHCHR spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell.

“This really is something that highlights the courage and determination of the women of Iran and how they are an inspiration to the world.”


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