Iran’s jailed rights advocate Narges Mohammadi wins 2023 Nobel Peace Prize

Narges Mohammadi is honoured for her fight against ‘the oppression of women’ in Iran at ‘tremendous personal costs’.

Narges Mohammadi
Iranian rights campaigner Narges Mohammadi is seen at her home in Tehran in 2001 [File: Behrouz Mehri/AFP]

Narges Mohammadi, a jailed Iranian women’s rights advocate, has won the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous struggle against the oppression of women in Iran and relentless fight for social reform.

While behind bars, she was awarded the prestigious prize on Friday for her efforts “to promote human rights and freedom for all”, according to the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

“Her brave struggle has come with tremendous personal costs. Altogether, the regime has arrested her 13 times, convicted her five times, and sentenced her to a total of 31 years in prison and 154 lashes,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said in Oslo during the announcement.

Mohammadi, 51, is one of Iran’s leading human rights activists who has campaigned for women’s rights and the abolition of the death penalty.

She is currently serving multiple sentences in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison amounting to about 12 years imprisonment, according to the Front Line Defenders rights organisation, one of the many periods she has been detained behind bars. Charges include spreading propaganda against the state.

Mohammadi 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.

She told The New York Times after the win 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.

“I also hope this recognition makes Iranians protesting for change stronger and more organised. Victory is near.”

Tehran accused the Nobel committee of meddling and politicising 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 a statement carried by state media.

‘Regime will double down’

Henrik Urdal, director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, told Al Jazeera after the announcement it was “a very important prize, one that is celebrating the achievements of human rights defenders, specifically women’s rights defenders in Iran, which has been a very troubled country”.

“This is a prize that is also focusing on the sacrifices of young people in Iran. It is a way of underlining their sacrifices and the challenges human rights defenders are operating under in Iran,” he said.

Mohammadi’s award comes after a wave of protests swept Iran following the death in custody a year ago of a young Iranian Kurd, Mahsa Amini, arrested for violating Iran’s strict dress rules for women.

Iran is ranked 143rd out of 146 countries on the World Economic Forum’s gender equality ranking. Tehran rejects accusations of discrimination against women.

Mohammadi is the 19th woman to win the 122-year-old prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee picked this year’s winner from 351 candidates, including 259 individuals and 92 organisations.

Olive Moore, Interim Director at Front Line Defenders, said, “This Nobel Peace Prize is a resounding recognition of Narges Mohammadi and other women human rights defenders who – at great cost to personal liberty – have courageously advocated for Iranian women to enjoy the full range of human rights and freedoms”.

‘Do something dignified’

Mohammadi’s brother Hamidreza said he has not been in touch with his sister but the Nobel Peace Prize “means a lot to her”. He added, however, it is unlikely to make a difference in Iran.

“The prize means that the world has seen this movement, [but] the award will not affect the situation in Iran,” he said. “The regime will double down on the opposition, and it will have no effect on the regime. They will just crush people.”

The head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee urged Iran to release Mohammadi. “I appeal to Iran: Do something dignified and release the Nobel laureate Narges Mohammadi,” committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said.

Incarcerated this time since November 2021, Mohammadi has not seen her children – who live in France with her husband – for eight years. She is considered a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International.

Mohammadi’s family said the Nobel Peace Prize was a “historic and profound moment for Iran’s fight for freedom”, while the United Nations called for “her release and the release of all human rights defenders jailed in Iran”.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the award underscored the bravery of Iranian women.

“They’ve been harassed for what they do or don’t wear. There are increasingly stringent legal, social and economic measures against them. This really is something that highlights the courage and determination of the women of Iran and how they are an inspiration to the world,” said OHCHR spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell.

Narges Mohammadi speaks at a human rights conference in Iran in 2005 [File: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA-EFE]

Previous awards

Last year, the prize went to human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights group Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties.

The winners had for many years promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens, the committee said at the time, which came during the first year of Russia’s all-out war in Ukraine.

The Peace Prize is the only one of the Nobel prizes to be awarded in Norway’s capital Oslo, rather than Sweden’s capital Stockholm.

Over the past week, the medicine, physics, chemistry and literature prizes have been announced. The final prize, for economics, is to be announced on Monday.

This year, the prizes are worth 11 million krona ($990,000) in each category.

How do you win the Nobel Peace Prize?

To be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, eligible nominators, including a chancellor, professor, government, and previous winners, among others, must submit a name and explain why they are worthy of the prize.

However, there is no official list of the nominees and the names considered are only published 50 years later.

After being nominated, an eight-month-long decision-making process is under way, which includes the committee and a group of international advisers who give their expertise on a short list of candidates.

The advisers will produce reports by the end of April, which committee members will study, and begin making decisions through midyear. By the beginning of October, the committee will make its decision through a majority vote.

This year, there were 351 candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize – the second-highest number of candidates ever – except in 2016, when 376 were nominated.

Of those nominated, 259 are individuals and 92 are organisations. It is the eighth straight year with more than 300 nominees.

What do prize winners get?

The amount of cash accompanying the Peace Prize jumped 10 percent this year to about $1m.

Prize money has risen and fallen over the years. The Nobel Foundation says it increased the amount this year because of its stronger financial position.

Winners also walk away with an 18-carat gold medal and a diploma.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies