October 23, 2023

European Union Honors Mahsa (Jina) Amini and the Iranian Women’s Movement with the Prestigious Sakharov Prize

The European Union’s Sakharov Prize, a beacon of hope for champions of freedom and equality, has found its latest heroes in Mahsa (Jina) Amini and the Iranian Women’s Movement. This prestigious award is a testament to the Iranian people’s unwavering commitment to the cause of women’s rights and human rights.

Mahsa Amini was arrested in Tehran for alleged noncompliance with mandatory hijab laws in September 2022, and was then reportedly brutally beaten in a morality police van before collapsing, falling into a coma, and dying three days later. Her tragic death culminated in unprecedented nationwide protests that continued in force through December 2022. This posthumous award in her memory, and the monumental and  brave challenges against mandatory hijab and state repression that followed, is another touching tribute from the international community to the people of Iran.

David McAllister, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, announced that Mahsa (Jina) and the Women’s Movement she inspired were being recognized for their courageous representation of and struggle for women’s rights. The nomination was put forward by the European People’s Party. 

Wilma Nunez and Rolando Alvarez, two tenacious Nicaraguan human rights activists, were also among this year’s Sakharov Prize nominees, as were three remarkable women from Poland (Justyna Wydrzynska), El Salvador (Morena Herrera), and the United States (Colleen McNicholas). Previously in 2012, the Sakharov Prize was awarded to Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi.

Each year, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded to human rights activists and political dissidents. The President of the European Parliament, Ms. Roberta Metsola, announced the award somberly, stating that Jina Mahsa Amini’s untimely death will forever be etched in history. She stated, “We stand with those who, even from prison, continue to keep Women, Life and Freedom alive. By choosing them as laureates for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2023, this House remembers their struggle and continues to honor all those who have paid the ultimate price for liberty.ʺ

In response to his daughter receiving the award, Amjad Amini stated, “Our Jina is not dead. She lives with us. We are pleased that her name has become a symbol of freedom and equality throughout the world, and we are positive that she is happy and content.” Mahsa’s mother, Mojgan Afshari, shared her emotions on Instagram following the presentation of the award, urging her daughter to realize the global impact of her name. A beacon of inspiration for people around the world, Mahsa now belongs to a global family. She posted a story on her instagram account: “Zina, my sweet daughter, wake up and see that today your name resonates across the world. Open your eyes and realize that today you have a family as big as all the people in the world.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rahman, revealed in a report on October 7, 2023, that Ms. Amini had suffered brutal violence, torture, and inhumane treatment at the hands of the morality police, which ultimately led to her tragic death. As a result of the report, there was evidence and testimony that pointed to this grave injustice. According to Mr. Rahman, the use of lethal force by security forces in Iran has resulted in the tragic death of at least 537 individuals, including 68 children and 48 women. Furthermore, the Islamic Republic of Iran continued to suppress protesters and unlawfully detain human rights activists, raising grave concerns. The country also carried out at least seven executions against Iranian citizens who had engaged in protest during the apex of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement. 

The Sakharov Prize expressed unwavering solidarity with the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement. In her speech, Ms. Metsola noted that “Woman, Life, Freedom” has become the rallying cry for those fighting for equality, dignity, and freedom in Iran. As a result of the world’s hearing of their appeal, they stood united in solidarity with those who maintained the spirit of the movement, even from prison.

The “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement and Mahsa Amini now join an esteemed list of past Sakharov Prize recipients, which includes luminaries such as Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandela. NIAC celebrates Ms. Amini’s well-deserved award and hopes it serves as a catalyst for further empowering the Iranian women’s movement to achieve their aims. 

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