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New empty chair at Peace Prize ceremony shames Iran

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo featured yet another empty chair, since Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi remains jailed in Iran. Mohammadi’s relentless struggle for human rights and freedom in Iran won her the Peace Prize, but left her children in exile to accept it on her behalf.

Kiana Rahmani, daughter of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Nagres Mohammadai, sits next to the empty chair that should have been occupied by her mother on Sunday. PHOTO: ©Jo Straube/Nobel Prize Outreach

An earlier empty chair symbolized the absence of another jailed human rights advocate, Liu Xiabao, who later died in the custody of another authoritarian regime in China. As in the case of Liu, a large portrait of Mohammadi showing her smiling, with her hair free and uncovered and her gaze direct, hovered over the ceremony that once again filled Oslo’s City Hall with royalty, government officials, ambassadors from all over the world, Mohammadi’s supporters and, not least, her family who now lives in exile in France.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year’s Peace Prize to Mohammadi “for her long and courageous battle against oppression of women in Iran and her struggle for freedom and liberty for all.” Committee leader Berit Reiss-Andersen stressed in her opening remarks that by focusing on women’s rights, Mohammadi “is highlighting the universal right to equality. She has fought restrictions imposed on women, such as the forced wearing of the hijab” and how the rights of Iranian women are inferior to those of men “in all aspects of life.”

That has come at “a high cost,” with Mohammadi herself “denied a career as a physicist and engineer” and repeatedly jailed over her objections to government oppression. Reiss-Andersen, an attorney and former leader of Norwegian attorneys’ national professional organization, noted how the 51-year-old Mohammadi has been harassed and arrested 13 times, with her latest prison sentence set at 10 years plus 153 lashings.

“Her ‘crime’,” said Reiss-Andersen, “has been to speak out for human rights and against the use of the death penalty in Iran.” Mohammadi also took over the human rights organization in Iran that had been led by Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, when Ebadi had to go into exile. Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize exactly 20 years ago, was in the audience at Sunday’s ceremony.

Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for also trying to secure human rights in Iran, was in the audience at Sunday’s ceremony in Oslo. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Mohammadi has continued Ebadi’s work “by writing, fighting, demonstrating and speaking up on every possible occasion,” Reiss-Andersen said, “with no fear of consequences.” Imprisonment has not silenced her, the Nobel Committee noted, and she also has organized protests against the sexual violence and torture used against prisoners. In an article that reached the New York Times on the first anniversary of the death in prison of hijab-protester Mahsa Jin Amini, which set off demonstrations all over the world and engaged the Iranian-born president of Norway’s Parliament, Mohammadi wrote that “the more they lock us up, the stronger we become.”

She also managed to smuggle out the text of an acceptance speech for her prize, which was read aloud by her now-17-year-old twins Kiana and Ali Rahmani, whom she hasn’t been able to see for the past eight years. They received a standing ovation after they carried out the task, which was undertaken in a mix of English, Farsi and French but primarily the latter.

Ali Rahmani flashed a victory sign after speaking, along with his sister Kiana, for their mother as her portait loomed in the background. PHOTO: ©Jo Straube/Nobel Prize Outreach

They spoke for their mother, who repeatedly referred to the Iranian government as “tyrannical” and guilty of “oppression, repression and discrimination” against its own people. She said nonetheless that she’s confident the “undeniable impact of the Nobel Peace Prize on the recent powerful movement of Iranians for peace, freedom and democracy will go beyond the strength of individual struggle and resistance, and this gives me hope and inspires me.” She claimed that “resistance is alive, and the struggle endures.”

Read Nobel Laureate Nagres Mohammadi’s entire speech here (external link to the Nobel Committee’s website).

The Norwegian Nobel Committee determined that Mohammadi’s “advancement of fraternity among the people of Iran and in the world at large” fulfilled the terms of Peace Prize benefactor Alfred Nobel’s will. Mohammadi, according to the committee, carries on a “long tradition of Nobel Peace Prizes awarded to non-violent freedom fighters” such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr of the US, and both Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandel of South Africa.

Even though human rights have been further eroded since Ebadi won the Peace Prize in 2003, Reiss-Andersen believes they’ll eventually be won. She noted how Mohammadi, when finally taken to a hospital for a medical exam after a hunger strike, she was not wearing a hijab. “Women have been fighting against segregation for more than 30 years,” Reiss-Andersen said. “Eventually their dream of a brighter future will prevail.”

Nobel Peace Prize Day in Oslo, always celebrated December 10th on the anniversary of benefactor Alfred Nobel’s death, ended with another recollection of the late Nobel Laureate Liu’s absence from his own ceremony in 2010. The Nobel Committee had lit up an image of him on the wall of the Grand Hotel, where a banquet is held for Peace Prize winners who also traditionally wave from a hotel balcony to a torchlight parade held in their honor below. This year an image of Mohammadi was portrayed on the wall when her children and husband appeared on the balcony on her behalf, and the crowd paying their respects cheered loudly. Berglund



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