Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Human rights advocacy can be graded by degrees. Some advocacy is communicated in articles, interviews, donations, and professional work. Still more is committed by people in collectives working for dignity and equality. Sometimes fearless advocates can be awardees and/or lightning rods. One of those people is Narges Mohammadi.
Mohammadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2023. She has fought for the equality and dignity of women in Iran. She has been convicted five times, arrested 13 times, and sentenced to 31 years in prison plus 154 lashes. Currently, she is in prison.
Since the Islamic regime took power in Iran in 1979, people have protested against the brutality and oppression of the Iranian morality police and the theocratic system. There can be inflection points. One was the murder of Mahsa Amini in September, 2022. Amini’s murder unleashed the largest political demonstrations since 1979. Twenty thousand protestors were arrested, thousands were injured, and 500 were killed. Demonstrators created the slogan “Zan – Zendegi – Azadi,” meaning “Woman – Life – Freedom.”
Mohammadi has a history of working for gender equality. Her arrests started in 2011 when she spoke out about activists who had been jailed. She then fought against the death penalty. She was re-arrested in 2015 for fighting against the death penalty. As a physics student in the 1990s, she wrote for reformation-oriented publications. She has been involved with the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Tehran, which was founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.
Once in prison, Mohammadi began fighting against the sexualized violence and use of torture against political prisoners in Iranian prisons. In protests in prison, she assumed leadership, expressing solidarity with inmates. Even with strict impositions on communications in a Tehran prison, she smuggled an article out, which was published by the New York Times on the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s murder. The more such political prisoners continue to be inmates, the more powerful they become.
Mohammadi has engaged in a hunger strike. The reason: Despite Mohammadi suffering from a heart condition, prison guards would not take her to the hospital for treatment unless she wore a headscarf. Seven prisoners joined her, refusing to wear the headscarf out of solidarity.
Mohammadi’s fight continues, with or without the awards.