The young Kurdish Mahsa Amini, who died aged 22 in Iranian police custody, won the 2023 Sakharov, an award in defense of human rights given by the European Parliament. “We proudly support the courageous and defiant who continue to fight for equality, dignity and freedom in Iran,” said Roberta Metsola, president of the legislative body, in a statement released this Thursday (19).
Amini’s death, in September last year, was the trigger for one of the biggest waves of protests in Iran in recent decades. The acts challenged the regime presided over by Ebrahim Raisi and led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who responded with repression.
She died three days after being arrested in Tehran for allegedly not wearing the hijab, the Islamic veil, correctly. While agents of the moral police, responsible for enforcing the regime’s religious codes of conduct, say she suffered a heart attack after her arrest, her family claims she was attacked.
The tension in the country was fueled by international pressure for his death to be investigated and the population’s dismay with the economic crisis. At the time, images of Iranian women taking off their veils and cutting their hair as a form of protest spread around the world.
According to activists, the acts caused the authorities to suspend the detention of women who did not dress according to the rules — a control that was resumed a few months later.
More than 500 people, including 71 minors, were killed in the demonstrations, according to human rights groups. Iran, whose penal code provides for the death penalty, carried out seven executions linked to the acts and arrested thousands of people.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought has been awarded by the European Parliament since 1988 to individuals or organizations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. In this edition, the finalists, in addition to Amini, were lawyer Vilma Núñez and Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who oppose the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, and women who fight for the right to abortion in Poland, El Salvador and the United States.
The winners receive €50,000 (R$266,000). The name of the honor commemorates nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, sentenced to internal exile in the 1980s after criticizing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Previous editions honored South African Nelson Mandela, the opposition to Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.
This is the second major award to go to an Iranian woman in less than a month. In early October, the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize went to Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, 51, arrested in Tehran on charges of “spreading propaganda against the state.”
Mohammadi has been persecuted for 30 years by the Iranian regime for her activism, which began when she entered university, and for articles written in favor of women’s rights in the country. The activist was arrested 13 times by state forces and sentenced five times to a total of 31 years in prison and 154 lashes, according to Berit Reiss-Andersen, president of the awards committee.
The most recent arrest occurred in 2021, while she was participating in a ceremony in memory of a person killed during protests against the Islamic regime that took place in 2019. She is serving a sentence of ten years and nine months in prison.
Last year, Sakharov went to the Ukrainian population. The choice at the time was hardly surprising as it reinforced the alliance between the European Union and Kiev sealed at the beginning of the Russian invasion. Days earlier, the Nobel Peace Prize had awarded NGOs from Russia and Ukraine that oppose President Vladimir Putin and activist Ales Bialiatski, imprisoned by the dictatorship of Belarus, an ally of Moscow.