Mahsa Amini honoured with EU’s top human rights prize

The Kurdish-Iranian woman who died in police custody became a symbol for the women’s rights movement in Iran.

A demonstrator holds a poster during a protest following the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran, in Berlin, Germany, October, 22, 2022.
A demonstrator holds a poster of Mahsa Amini, who died in Iranian police custody in September 2022 [Christian Mang/Reuters]

Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman whose death in police custody sparked a wave of women’s rights protests in Iran, has been awarded the European Union’s top human rights prize.

Amini, along with Iran’s Women, Life and Freedom movement that emerged in a months-long street protest campaign following her death, received the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola announced on Thursday, honouring them for their defence of “human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Announcing the prize, Metsola said Amini had triggered a “historic” women-led movement in the country and hoped the award would “serve as a tribute to the brave and defiant women, men and young people of Iran” pushing for change.

“The world has heard the chants of ‘Women, Life, Liberty.’ Three words that have become a rallying cry for all those standing up for equality, for dignity and for freedom in Iran,” Metsola said.

Part of Iran’s minority Kurdish community, Amini was arrested in Tehran last year by the “morality police” for allegedly not complying with the country’s hijab rules. She died in police custody three days later.

Amini’s family have said she was entirely healthy beforehand and eyewitnesses have said they saw her being beaten while entering a police van. Iranian authorities have denied responsibility, attributing Amini’s death to a heart attack.

Her death triggered widespread protests across Iran for nearly three months in 2022, with some women attendees defying the strict headscarf rules and others chanting antigovernment slogans. Solidarity protests spread throughout the world, with demonstrations in Paris, Berlin, Beirut, Istanbul and other major cities.

Demonstrators hold a banner and flags during a protest following the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran, in Berlin.
Demonstrators hold a banner and flags during a protest following the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran, in Berlin, Germany, October 22, 2022 [Christian Mang/Reuters]

Iranian authorities violently cracked down on the protest movement, killing 500 people and detaining 22,000, according to rights groups. Tehran has rebuffed calls to open an independent inquiry into the crackdown.

“Not one official has been criminally investigated, let alone prosecuted and punished for crimes committed during, and in the aftermath of, the uprising,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa in September 2023.

Amini is not the only Iranian woman to draw global attention for her influence on women’s rights. Earlier this month, Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who is serving a 12-year jail term for her activism, won the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize.

“The Norwegian Nobel committee has decided to award the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize to Narges Mohammadi for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all,” the committee said in its announcement.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies