What does Mohammadi's Nobel Peace Prize mean?

Narges Mohammadi's Nobel Peace Prize marks a milestone in a decades-long women's rights movement, drawing attention once again to the "women, life, freedom" protests that inspired people worldwide

Iran's women's rights movement spearheaded defiant protests in 2022 (photo: DW)
Iran's women's rights movement spearheaded defiant protests in 2022 (photo: DW)


Narges Mohammadi , who has campaigned for human rights in Iran for decades, has been in and out of jail for nearly 20 years due to her tireless advocacy in defiance of the Islamic Republic's regime.

She has been arrested 13 times, convicted five times, and sentenced to a total of 31 years in jail. She is currently incarcerated in the Iranian capital Tehran's Evin prison, which is notorious for human rights abuses and the maltreatment of political prisoners in particular.

On Sunday, 10 December the children of Narges Mohammadi accepted the Nobel Peace Prize at Oslo's city hall on her behalf in her absence.

Mohammadi's prize 'a tribute to resistance'

Mohammadi's husband, Taghi Rahmani, an exiled Iranian journalist who lives in France with the couple's children, told DW that the award was "a tribute to resistance."

"The fact that the ceremony began with the slogan of 'Women, Life, Freedom' shows that this award is meant for all those who are striving for civil liberties and democracy in Iran, and Narges is one of these individuals," he said.

In October, the Iranian lawyer and rights activist Shirin Ebadi told DW that Mohammadi's peace prize would " draw international attention to human rights violations in Iran, particularly the discriminatory treatment of women."

In 2003, Ebadi became the first Iranian person, as well as the first woman from the Islamic world, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

"It will undoubtedly assist women in achieving equality and help Iranian society move towards democracy," Ebadi said, while congratulating "all Iranian women" and Mohammadi. "She deserves this award. She had to sit in prison for many years because of her human rights activities."

"It is an honor that two people from a human rights NGO in Iran have won the Nobel Peace Prize," she added, recalling Mohammadi's time at the Defenders of Human Rights Center, an Iranian human rights NGO Ebadi co-founded in 2001.

Iran a land of 'remarkable women'

Mansoureh Shojaei, an Iranian women's rights activist based in The Hague, told DW Mohammadi's prize was a sign that last year's "Women, Life, Freedom" protests had once again drawn global attention to a movement that has been fighting in Iran for decades.

"When the Nobel Prize is awarded to Iranian women after a 20-year gap, it indicates that Iran is truly a land of remarkable women," she added.

"Whether they are Nobel laureates, women in prison, women in comas in hospitals, or women whose loved ones rest in cemeteries, and even those women who were banned from education and flogged in the streets — all of these demonstrate that the Nobel Prize awarded 20 years ago laid the foundation for various social and women's movements," Shojaie said.

Mohammadi "is the daughter of those gatherings, the offspring of those coalitions, even though she was active herself back then and constantly ever since."

Women, Life, Freedom in Iran

Women in Iran can face severe consequences, including death, simply for showing their hair in public. Going outside without a headscarf is forbidden by a strict "morality" code that is enforced by roving squads of police in major cities.

Last year, the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Jina Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's "morality police," who had detained her for wearing her headscarf "improperly" sparked unprecedented protests in cities across Iran. They were mainly led by young women, who risked their lives to defy the regime. People in cities around the world staged demonstrations in solidarity.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said the 2023 prize also recognized the thousands of Iranians who "demonstrated against Iran's theocratic regime's policies of discrimination and oppression targeting women."

Many demonstrators paid a heavy price when hundreds of people were killed in violent police crackdowns across Iran.

The families of the victims are under continual pressure from authorities to not show any sign of dissent. Some are even banned from gathering at the grave sites of their murdered relatives.

Last month, Mohammadi and her fellow inmates staged a symbolic protest in the prison yard by burning their headscarves on the anniversary of Amini's death.

This week, the world received another reminder of the brutality faced by Iranian women. Activists say a 16-year-old girl was beaten into a coma by the so-called "morality police" in Tehran's subway because she was not wearing a hijab.

The future of Iranian women's rights

"Since the founding of the Islamic Republic in Iran in 1979, women in Iran have been systematically oppressed. Those who don't conform are punished. Women who resist, like me and other human rights activists, defy this system. Those in power try everything they can to break us and silence us," Mohammadi told DW in a June 2021 interview conducted before she began her latest prison sentence.

At the time, she had been charged with "propaganda against the political system" after trying to report the Evin prison director for severely beating her. She said Iran's authorities targeted her "mainly because I am a woman who does not give in."

Mohammadi's husband, who has not seen his wife in years, said that it was significant that the Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to someone who was still in prison with other political activists.

He expressed hope that "civil institutions in foreign countries will exert pressure on their governments to consider human rights as one of the most important aspects in their relations" with Iran.

"Governments should understand that freedom in a globalized world is an issue of international importance," he added.

Mansoureh Shojaei said that the Nobel could help women's rights movements, adding that it was the "responsibility" of activists to "utilize these resources to the fullest extent."

The Hague-based activist said Iranian women's rights movement had benefited from Ebadi's Nobel Prize 20 years ago, citing campaigns such as the "one million signature campaign" in Iran, which called for a change to discriminatory laws.

"This second Nobel Prize can be considered a result of the women's freedom movement," she said.

For her part, Shirin Ebadi said that she hoped fellow Nobel laureate Mohammadi's 2023 prize would "make the Iranian government aware of its anti-human rights behavior" and force officials to respect people's rights and release Mohammadi and all political prisoners.

"I wish Iran freedom," she said.

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