Imprisoned Iranian women’s rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who was awarded the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize on October 6, said the honor only strengthens her resolve to fight oppression even if it means spending the rest of her life behind bars.
In bestowing the award at an announcement ceremony in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it was honoring the 51-year-old for “her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.”
“I will never stop striving for the realization of democracy, freedom and equality,” she said in a statement released through The New York Times after the Nobel announcement.
“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.”
The award was widely applauded by the international community, while Iran denounced it as a “biased and political” action.
“We note that the Nobel Peace Committee awarded the Peace Prize to a person who was convicted of repeated violations of laws and criminal acts,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said in a statement. “We condemn this biased and political move.”
Mohammadi’s campaign for freedom of expression and women’s rights has prompted the Islamic regime to arrest her 13 times, convict her five times, and sentence her to a total of 31 years in prison and 154 lashes.
Mohammadi is currently serving multiple sentences in Tehran’s Evin prison amounting to about 12 years’ imprisonment — she has not seen her family in more than eight years — on charges that include spreading propaganda against the state.
“Although the years of her absence can never be compensated for us, the reality is that the honor of recognizing Narges’s efforts for peace is a source of solace for our indescribable suffering,” a family statement said.
“For us, who know that the Nobel Peace Prize will aid her in achieving her goals, this day is a blessed day,” it added.
Mohammadi is the 19th woman to win the 122-year-old prize and the second Iranian woman, after human rights activist Shirin Ebadi won it in 2003.
“This prize means that the world is paying attention to the activities that is being done in Iran for the rights of women, the world sees how the establishment represses women,” Ebadi told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda after the announcement.
“As I have repeatedly said, democracy will enter Iran through the gate of women’s rights.”
Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, who announced the prize in Oslo, said it remains to be seen whether Mohammadi will be able to receive the award in Norway at a ceremony on December 10.
“If the Iranian authorities make the right decision, they will release her. So she can be present to receive this honor, which is what we primarily hope for,” Reiss-Andersen said.
The Nobel Committee, the United Nations, and rights organizations, including Amnesty International, called for Mohammadi’s immediate release.
Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said Mohammadi’s recognition “sends a clear message to the Iranian authorities that their crackdown on peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not go unchallenged.”
The Nobel Committee said the 2023 prize also recognizes the hundreds of thousands of people who “have demonstrated against Iran’s theocratic regime’s policies of discrimination and oppression targeting women,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in making the announcement on October 6.
The anti-government protests in Iran were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.
The authorities responded to the unrest with a crackdown on demonstrations that has left hundreds dead.
More recently, 16-year-old high-school student Armita Garavand was reportedly assaulted by the city’s notorious morality police on the Tehran subway on October 1 for not wearing a head scarf.
A source at the Fajr Air Force Hospital, who spoke to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on condition of anonymity due to security reasons, said Garavand had suffered internal bleeding in the brain and was in critical condition.
Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani, told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that the Nobel announcement “opens a window for the fight for democracy, for human rights, civil equality and it also makes Narges’s responsibility heavy and as she’s said, ‘Any prize makes me stronger for the human rights goals that I have.'”
“I think this is important, it’s not just a prize for Narges, it brings attention to the resistance that is ongoing in Iran for freedom, democracy, and civil equality,” he added.
First arrested 22 years ago, Mohammadi has spent much of the past two decades in and out of jail over her unstinting campaigning for human rights in Iran. She has most recently been incarcerated since November 2021.
Still, the Nobel laureate has managed to remain an activist even while imprisoned, winning the 2018 Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Though she was behind bars for the anti-government protests over the past year that highlighted the Women, Life, Freedom movement triggered by Amini’s death, Mohammadi and fellow inmates staged a symbolic protest in the yard of Evin by burning their head scarves on the anniversary of the 22-year-old’s death.
From behind bars, Mohammadi still contributed an opinion piece for The New York Times in September where she called the dissent a testament to the resilience of protesters and the waning authority of the “theocratic authoritarian regime.”
“What the government may not understand is that the more of us they lock up, the stronger we become,” she wrote.
Last year, in a letter addressed to Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Mohammadi described the “assault on women during arrest and in detention centers” as part of the Islamic republic’s “suppression program” against activist women.
The Nobel Peace Prize, awarded by experts appointed by the Norwegian parliament, comes with an award of 11 million Swedish crowns (about $1 million).
Last year, the prize was awarded to human rights activists in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine amid harsh crackdowns by Minsk and Moscow on dissent and the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
This year the Norwegian Nobel Committee received 351 nominations — 259 for individuals and 92 for organizations. The full list is kept secret for 50 years.