By Gwladys Fouche and Tom Little
OSLO (Reuters) – Imprisoned Iranian women’s rights advocate Narges Mohammadi won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in a rebuke to Tehran’s theocratic leaders and boost for anti-government protesters, prompting the Islamic Republic’s condemnation.
The award-making committee said the prize honoured those behind recent unprecedented demonstrations in Iran and called for the release of Mohammadi, 51, who has campaigned for three decades for women’s rights and abolition of the death penalty.
“We hope to send the message to women all around the world that are living in conditions where they are systematically discriminated: ‘Have the courage, keep on going’,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told Reuters.
“We want to give the prize to encourage Narges Mohammadi and the hundreds of thousands of people who have been crying for exactly ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ in Iran,” she added, referring to the protest movement’s main slogan.
Tehran, which has called the protests Western-led subversion, accused the Nobel committee of meddling and politicizing the issue of human rights.
“The action of the Nobel Peace Committee is political move in line with the interventionist and anti-Iranian policies of some European governments,” Nasser Kanaani, a spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said.
“The Nobel Peace committee has awarded a prize to a person convicted of repeated law violations and criminal acts, and we condemn this as biased and politically motivated,” he added in the statement carried by state media.
Mohammadi was quoted by the New York Times as saying she would never stop striving for democracy and equality, even if that meant staying in prison.
“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 newspaper quoted her as saying in a statement, which it said was issued after the Nobel announcement.
Mohammadi is serving multiple sentences in Tehran’s Evin Prison amounting to about 12 years imprisonment, one of the many periods she has been detained behind bars, according to the Front Line Defenders rights organisation.
Charges include spreading propaganda against the state.
She is the deputy head of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, a non-governmental organisation led by Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who lives in exile.
“I congratulate Narges Mohammadi and all Iranian women for this prize,” Ebadi told Reuters. “This prize will shed light on violation of women’s rights in the Islamic Republic … which unfortunately has proven that it cannot be reformed.”
‘EMBOLDEN NARGES’ FIGHT’
Mohammadi is the 19th woman to win the 122-year-old prize and the first one since Maria Ressa of the Philippines garnered the award in 2021 jointly with Russia’s Dmitry Muratov.
Mohammadi’s husband Taghi Rahmani applauded as he watched the announcement on TV at his home in Paris. “This Nobel Prize will embolden Narges’ fight for human rights, but more importantly, this is in fact a prize for the ‘woman, life and freedom’ movement,” he told Reuters.
Her brother, Hamidreza Mohammadi, said he was “overwhelmed” when watching the announcement and that the prize would strengthen the work of his sister and other activists.
“She will feel much stronger in her endeavours for human rights in Iran and for everyone who hopes for a better situation in Iran,” he told Reuters in Oslo.
Arrested more than a dozen times in her life, and held three times in Evin prison since 2012, Mohammadi has been unable to see her husband for 15 years and her children for seven.
Her prize, worth 11 million Swedish crowns, or around $1 million, will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.
Past winners include Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
Mohammadi’s award came as rights groups reported that an Iranian teenage girl was hospitalised in a coma after a confrontation on the Tehran metro for not wearing a hijab. Iranian authorities deny the reports.
U.S. President Joe Biden praised Mohammadi and called for her immediate release, while lamenting the reported assault of the hospitalized teenager.
“The United States will continue working to support Iranians’ ability to advocate for their own future, for freedom of expression, for gender equality, and to end gender-based violence against women and girls everywhere,” Biden said in a statement.
The Nobel Committee’s honouring of Mohammadi also came just over a year after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iranian morality police for allegedly flouting the Islamic Republic’s dress code for women.
That provoked months of nationwide protests that posed the biggest challenge to Shi’ite clerical rule in years, and was met with a deadly security crackdown costing several hundred lives.
Among a stream of tributes from major global bodies, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the Nobel award was “a tribute to all those women who are fighting for their rights at the risk of their freedom, their health and even their lives” .
Dan Smith, head of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute think tank, said that while the prize could help ease pressure on Iranian dissidents, it would be unlikely to bring about Mohammadi’s release.
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche, Nerijus Adomaitis, Terje Solsvik and Tom Little in Oslo, Ilze Filks in Stockholm, Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Anthony Paone in Paris, Charlotte Van Campenhout in Brussels, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, John Davison, Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber and Cecile Mantovani in Geneva; Writing by Gwladys Fouche, Andrew Cawthorne and Susan Heavey; Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Heavens)