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Source: NY Times

Oct 6, 2023

Nobel Peace Prize Narges Mohammadi, Jailed Iranian Activist, Is 2023 Laureate

The activist, who is serving a 10-year sentence in Tehran, was honored “for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran.”

By Farnaz Fassihi and Aaron Boxerman

Here’s what to know about this year’s prize.

Narges Mohammadi, an Iranian activist who is serving a 10-year sentence in an Iranian prison, received the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday “for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.”

The closely watched announcement, made by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo, comes after women-led protests in Iran that convulsed the country over the death in police custody of a 22-year-old who had been arrested by the country’s morality police. Hundreds were killed in the ensuing government crackdown, including at least 44 minors, while about 20,000 Iranians were arrested, the United Nations calculated.

“This year’s peace prize also recognizes the hundreds of thousands of people who, in the preceding year, have demonstrated against Iran’s theocratic regime’s policies of discrimination and oppression targeting women,” the committee said.

“The motto adopted by the demonstrators — ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ — suitably expresses the dedication and work of Narges Mohammadi.”Ms. Mohammadi vowed to stay in Iran and continue her activism, even if that means spending the rest of her life in prison. “Standing alongside the brave mothers of Iran,” she said, “I will continue to fight against the relentless discrimination, tyranny and gender-based oppression by the oppressive religious government until the liberation of women.”

There were 351 candidates for the prize this year, according to the Nobel committee, the second-highest number ever. Ms. Mohammadi joins 137 laureates named since the prize’s inception in 1901, a list that includes President Barack Obama; Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk; and Mother Teresa.

Here are some other highlights from our reporting:Over the past 30 years, Iran’s government has penalized Ms. Mohammadi again and again for her activism and her writing, depriving her of most of what she holds dear — her career as an engineer, her health, time with her parents, husband and children, and her liberty.

Read our full profile from June.The new Nobel laureate’s family, thousands of miles away from her in Paris, expressed joy over the honor, but acknowledged it had come at a cost, with the family fearing for her safety every day.

Ms. Mohammadi’s activism took on renewed urgency when mass protests erupted in September of last year, posing the most formidable challenge to the Iranian government since at least 2009.Last year, the Peace Prize was shared by democracy activists from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, in what was widely seen as a rebuke to President Vladimir V. Putin and Kremlin repression.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian women’s rights activist living in exile in the United States, said she first met Mohammadi when the latter agitated in Iran’s parliament for the rights of political prisoners. “In the years since, she herself became a political prisoner,” Alinejad wrote on the X platform, but said Mohammadi was “unbowed in her fight against the Islamic Republic.”

The Nobel Peace Prize has honored imprisoned activists before.

Ales Bialiatski in Stockholm in 2020. He was in prison when he shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022.Credit...Anders Wiklund/EPA, via Shutterstock

Narges Mohammadi, the Iranian human rights campaigner who received the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize, joined at least four other laureates who were jailed or under house arrest when chosen for the award.

Although the Norwegian Nobel Committee has called for Ms. Mohammadi’s release so she can accept the prize, there is little evidence that the prize will encourage the Iranian authorities to let her go. Here’s what happened to other imprisoned laureates.

Ales Bialiatski

A longtime pillar of the human rights movement in Belarus, Ales Bialiatski, now 61, shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year while awaiting trial.

He had been arrested in 2021, as part of a long crackdown on the protests that followed the autocrat Aleksandr G. Lukashenko’s declaration of victory in a 2020 presidential election, which many Western governments consider fraudulent. In March, Mr. Bialiatski was given a 10-year prison sentence.

He had already spent almost three years in prison between 2011 and 2014 on what rights groups called politically motivated charges.

When Liu Xiaobo, one of China’s more well-known dissidents, received the award in 2010, he was in prison for his advocacy of democracy and human rights. He kept vigil in Tiananmen Square in an attempt to protect democracy protesters in 1989, and in 2008 he had promoted a charter that called for a fundamental shake-up of China’s authoritarian system.

A written statement he had prepared for his 2009 trial for inciting subversion served, in his absence, as his Nobel lecture. “There is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom, and China will in the end become a nation ruled by law, where human rights reign supreme,” Mr. Liu wrote.

Mr. Liu died in 2017, at age 61, at a hospital in northeastern China. Although he had officially been granted medical parole, he remained in state custody, under guard, until the end.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, now 78, rose to prominence in the 1980s as a key leader in Myanmar’s struggle for democracy against its ruling military junta, and was placed under house arrest in 1989.

She was still being held in 1991, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee honored “her nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights.”

She remained in custody for much of the next two decades. Released in 2010, she was finally able to give her Nobel lecture two years later, and became Myanmar’s top civilian leader in 2015.

But her time in power tarnished her reputation, as she defended the country’s generals, including against accusations the military had conducted genocide against the Rohingya minority.

That stance did not protect her against a 2021 coup d’état, after which she was again imprisoned, with multiple decades-long sentences.

Carl von Ossietzky, the 1935 laureate, was a prominent pacifist journalist whose writings had sharply criticized the Nazi party during its rise to power.

He also exposed secret German rearmament in violation of the post-World War I Treaty of Versailles, for which he spent seven months in prison.

He was arrested again in 1933, when the Nazis consolidated their power in the wake of the Reichstag fire, and spent years in various concentration camps.

He died in 1938 at age 48 from the effects of his ill treatment in the camps, still under heavy government surveillance.

Iranian activist’s family exults from afar, but remains fearful for her.

Ali Rahmani and Taghi Rahmani, Narges Mohammadi’s son and husband, standing beside family photos in their Paris apartment shortly after the Nobel announcement on Friday.Credit...Juliette Guéron-Gabrielle/The New York Times

Narges Mohammadi’s 16-year-old son, Ali, who lives in Paris, was in school when the Nobel Peace Prize was announced on Friday. He kept refreshing his phone under the table until 11 a.m. struck — and his mother’s name flashed across the screen.

“My heart stopped,” Ali said afterward in an interview inside the Paris apartment where he and his twin sister, Kiana, live with their father, Taghi Rahmani, Ms. Mohammadi’s husband.

“I couldn’t shout in class, but I was so happy,” added Ali, who has been separated from his mother since 2015 and last spoke to her over a year ago. She is serving a 10-year jail sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison for “spreading anti-state propaganda.”

The family’s small apartment was abuzz with activity as visitors and reporters squeezed in and out, and as Mr. Rahmani fielded dozens of telephone interviews in Persian with news outlets from all over the world, mint tea in hand and sharing chocolates.

“We want the voice of the Iranian people to be amplified from the inside,” Mr. Rahmani said through an interpreter, sitting on a blue couch not far from a framed picture of him and his wife that sat on a bookshelf.

He said he and his children had not yet spoken with Ms. Mohammadi about her Nobel news, because they cannot call the prison where she is held.

“We are afraid for my mom every day,” Ali added. “The Nobel Prize is a sign for her to continue straight on, to not abandon the fight.”

Ali described his mother as “extremely kind” and extremely determined, “someone who will always speak the truth, even with a gun to her head.”

He said his mother wanted to stay in Iran and continue her rights advocacy. But the activism has come at a cost, with the family fearing for her safety every day, and living in a separate country from her.

“This is part of the system of invisible torture of Iran,” Ali said, “how they want to break people.”

Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights lawyer who received the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, said in an interview that Friday’s award showed that the world was paying attention to the women of Iran and their courage. “I hope that it helps Narges and other political prisoners to get released from prison and brings along with it freedom and democracy for all Iranians,” she said, adding that “the world must keep an eye on Iran.”

The Iranian authorities have not publicly reacted to the news of Mohammadi’s award. A hardliner analyst who also advises Tehran’s nuclear negotiating team and who has defended the government’s rights abuses, Mohammad Marandi, wrote on X: “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.”

Mass protests in Iran gave a new urgency to Mohammadi’s activism.

A police motorcycle burned during a protest after Mahsa Amini died in police custody in Tehran last year.Credit...Wana News Agency, via Reuters

Narges Mohammadi has campaigned for a more free and equal Iran for decades. But her activism took on renewed urgency when mass protests erupted in September last year, posing the most formidable challenge to the Iranian government since at least 2009.

The demonstrations broke out when Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, died at a Tehran hospital after being taken into custody by the country’s morality police because officers said she had worn her mandatory veil improperly.

Many Iranians came to see Ms. Amini’s death as emblematic of the heavy-handed and repressive nature of the Islamic Republic, particularly for women.

Their anger and their aspirations were reflected in a chant that came to be emblematic of the protest movement: “Woman, life, freedom.”The protests spread quickly, with women burning their head scarves and holding marches in cities across the country to call for an end to rule by the clerical establishment.

In response, security forces attacked and beat protesters, using batons and tear gas and firing metal pellets and rubber bullets.Hundreds were killed in the government crackdown, including at least 44 minors, while around 20,000 Iranians were arrested, the United Nations calculated.

Although the protests continued for months, they were slowly snuffed out.Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in October last year that he was “heartbroken” over Ms. Amini’s death, but he denounced the protests as “rioting” and accused the United States and Israel of conspiring to foment the unrest.

“They have a big problem with an Iran that is strong and independent,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.Even from captivity in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, Ms. Mohammadi sought to continue her activism and participate in the uprising.

She organized protests alongside fellow prisoners and delivered speeches in the prison yard.“When prison drags on for many years, you have to give your life meaning within confinement and keep love alive,” she has told The New York Times. “I have to keep my eyes on the horizon and the future even though the prison walls are tall and near and blocking my view.”

Mohammadi’s 16-year-old son, who lives in Paris with Mohammadi’s husband, said he had been in school this morning when the news was announced — but that he had checked his phone under the table in class.

“I couldn’t shout in class, but I was so happy,” he said at their apartment in Paris. “We are afraid for my mom everyday. The Nobel Prize is a sign for her to continue straight on, to not abandon the fight.”

Taghi Rahmani, Mohammadi’s husband, has been fielding interviews with news outlets from around the world next to a framed picture of the couple on a bookshelf. He and the children have not yet talked to her today, because they cannot call the prison. “We want the voice of the Iranian people to be amplified from the inside,” he said.

Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of PEN America, a free expression group, said the awarding of the prize to Mohammadi was “a tribute to her courage and that of countless women and girls who have poured out into the streets of Iran and faced down one of the world’s most brutal and stubborn regimes, risking their lives to demand their rights.”

“For those of us at PEN America,” she added, “Narges is an inspiration and also a personal friend, a woman whose story of unyielding defiance at crushing personal costs awakens the righteous indignation within each of us.”

Mohammadi has won many accolades, including PEN America’s Barbey Freedom to Write Award early this year. The United Nations also named her as one of the three recipients of its World Press Freedom Prize.

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