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DUBAI — The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to Narges Mohammadi, an imprisoned Iranian human rights activist. She is the fifth person to receive the prize while incarcerated.
Norwegian Nobel Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said the prize was awarded “for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.”
The prize will cast an international spotlight on the fight for women’s rights in the Middle Eastern nation, which has seen women take to the streets this year in protest under the banner “Woman, Life, Freedom,” following the death in custody of a young woman.
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“Her brave struggle has come with tremendous personal costs,” Reiss-Andersen said. “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. Ms. Mohammadi is still in prison.”
“In awarding her this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honor her courageous fight for human rights, freedom, and democracy in Iran,” Reiss-Andersen said, describing Mohammadi as a “freedom fighter.”
Iran has not yet officially responded to the award but after earlier criticism by European and American officials over the treatment of women in the country, Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani lashed on Thursday against “interventionist & biased remarks & expressing insincere concern over Iranian women & girls.”
In the 1990s Mohammadi studied physics before working as an engineer and becoming an advocate for equality and women’s rights, and campaigning to abolish the death penalty. In 2011 she was arrested for the first time for her efforts to assist incarcerated activists and their families.
Accused of “spreading propaganda,” the 51-year-old is now serving 10 years in Tehran’s notorious Elvin prison, where she works to oppose the conditions she and fellow female inmates are held in, specifically the use of torture and solitary confinement.
Last year, Mohammadi published the book “White Torture” on Iran’s use of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation against her and fellow prisoners.
“The aim of white torture is to permanently break the connection between a person’s body and mind to force the individual to recant their ethics and actions,” she wrote.
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Mohammadi wrote the book’s preface during a brief furlough from prison for medical reasons last year. She closed the section with a pledge, “They will put me behind bars again, but I will not stop campaigning until human rights and justice prevail in my country.”
And this year, on the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini, the young woman arrested for a dress code violation who died in the custody of Iran’s morality police, Mohammadi staged a protest from inside Elvin prison. She and three other women burned their headscarves, according to a post on her social media page.
Mohammadi’s determination to continue working despite her imprisonment, “carries a powerful message,” said a fellow Iranian activist and former colleague, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
“Narges Mohammadi is one of the very few who not only has stayed in Iran, but remains active, whether she is out or imprisoned,” she said. Her example is an inspiration within the activist community and among young people who continue to face attempts by the country’s leadership to squash dissent.
Iran is carrying out waves of arrests targeting activists, journalists and intellectuals in an attempt to stamp out dissent and tighten social restrictions. After protests erupted following Amini’s death last year, Iranian authorities arrested some 20,000 people.
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Mohammadi has been previously honored by Reporters Without Borders, the PEN America Literary Gala and the United Nations’ World Press Freedom Prize for her work defending human rights and her commitment to journalism under threat.
Mohammadi and two other Iranian journalists recognized by the United Nations, “paid a hefty price for their commitment to report and convey the truth,” said Zainab Salbi, the chair of the International Jury of media professionals who chose the press freedom prize winners.
“We are committed to honoring them and ensuring their voices will continue to echo worldwide until they are safe and free,” Salbi said.
Past imprisoned people to receive the prize include German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky in 1935, Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991, Chinese rights activist Liu Xiaobo in 2010, and last year’s winner Ales Bialiatski.
Arguably the most famous of the prizes set out by Alfred Nobel in his 1895 will, the Peace Prize includes a gold medal and an award of over $1 million for an individual or organization most contributing to “fraternity between nations,” reducing standing armies or holding peace conferences. The definition has since been expanded to include humanitarian work and the struggle for human rights.
While it was once politicians and leaders winning the prestigious prize, in recent years it has increasingly gone to organizations and individuals promoting human rights and humanitarian work. Amid war in Europe, last year’s prize went to human rights activists and organizations in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, while in 2021, it was awarded to Russian and Philippine journalists for promoting freedom of expression.
The last political leader to receive the prize, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2019 for peace efforts with neighboring Eritrea, came under criticism after a brutal civil war erupted in the north of the African country.
Norwegian writer Jon Fosse receives the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature
Alone among the prizes, which are doled out by Swedish institutions, the Peace Prize is awarded by a five-member Norwegian committee chosen by the Norwegian parliament, in accordance with Nobel’s wishes.
The possible political motives of the award are always closely scrutinized to see what kind of message the committee is sending the world. There were 351 candidates for the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize — the second highest number of candidates ever, according to the organization.
The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 103 times between 1901 and 2022. Other famous Peace Prize winners include girls’ education advocate, Malala Yousafzai, civil rights campaigner, Martin Luther King Jr. and Catholic humanitarian, Mother Teresa among others.
Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, whose research laid the groundwork for messenger RNA vaccines, were awarded the Nobel prize in medicine on Oct. 2. (Video: Reuters)
Earlier this week the Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded Monday to two scientists whose research laid the groundwork for messenger RNA vaccines that transformed the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, three scientists who probed the blurry realm of the electron were awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in physics.
The Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded Wednesday to three scientists for their fundamental discoveries in nanotechnology — particles once considered impossibly small to make, with applications in television screens and LED lamps. While on Thursday, a Norwegian novelist and playwright Jon Fosse won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Schemm and Suliman reported from London.