Imprisoned Iranian women rights activist Narges Mohammadi has won the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize for “her fight against the oppression of women in Iran,” just days after a Tehran teen reportedly fell into a coma after being assaulted by morality police for not wearing the mandatory head scarf.
The award, announced on October 6, was widely applauded by the international community, though it is likely to be derided by the government in Iran, where 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.
The 51-year-old is currently serving multiple sentences in Tehran’s Evin prison amounting to about 12 years’ imprisonment on charges that include spreading propaganda against the state.
“She fights for women against systematic discrimination and oppression,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, who announced the prize in Oslo.
“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 award ceremony will be held in the Norwegian capital on December 10.
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.
“When we established the Center for Human Rights Defenders in 2001, we knew exactly what a dangerous path we had taken, but the Iranian government proved to us every day with one crime after another that the blackness of the Islamic republic’s tyranny is not the end,” Ebadi said in reaction to the announcement.
“Maybe Narges is not even aware of the bestowing of this award as the Islamic Republic of Iran has kept a global and international personality behind bars. Narges Mohammadi should be released unconditionally.”
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.
Mohammadi’s family added in a social-media post that the Nobel Prize was a “historic and profound moment for Iran’s fight for freedom,” though they regretted they could not share this “extraordinary moment” with her.
Mohammadi, who won the 2018 Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, was behind bars for the anti-government protests over the past year that highlighted the Women, Life, Freedom movement triggered by Amini’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.
Mohammadi and fellow inmates during the anniversary of Amini’s death staged a symbolic protest in the yard of Evin by burning their head scarves.
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.
The Nobel laureate has managed, however, to remain an activist even while imprisoned.
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.