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An Iranian human rights activist and journalist wins Nobel Peace Prize

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A jailed women's rights activist from Iran has won the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize. Narges Mohammadi has led a campaign that's become the biggest challenge to the Iranian government since it came to power in 1979. NPR's Lauren Frayer has been following this morning's announcement and joins us now from London. Good morning, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So tell us about Narges Mohammadi.

FRAYER: She is a human rights campaigner. She's a journalist, a former physics student, and she is in jail. The Norwegian Nobel Committee today called her a freedom fighter. She's the vice president of a group that's banned in Iran. It's called the Defenders of Human Rights Center, which was actually founded by another Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi, the only other Iranian woman to win the Nobel Prize. It's a good friend of hers. The Nobel committee said this prize today is for Mohammadi, but also a recognition of the hundreds of thousands of people who've taken to Iran's streets in the past year to protest the Islamic regime's oppression of women. And the Nobel chair, Berit Reiss-Andersen, actually used their slogan when announcing the prize today in Farsi and in English.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERIT REISS-ANDERSEN: (Speaking Farsi) Women, life, freedom.

FRAYER: Those were the very first words of the announcement, and so that's how we knew it was going to Iranian women this year. Mohammadi is the 19th woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and the second Iranian woman after Ebadi.

FADEL: Now, as you mentioned, Mohammadi is in prison in Iran. So what are the chances she'll be able to claim her prize?

FRAYER: Yeah, I mean, she's currently in Iran's notorious Evin Prison, serving multiple sentences for charges that include spreading propaganda against the government. One of Iran's official news agencies has just come out with a statement saying the prize was awarded to her for her, quote, "actions against Iran's national security." The Nobel chair today called on Iran to release Mohammadi so that she can come and accept this prize in person in Oslo at a ceremony in December. Her husband has also made some comments this morning, accepting the prize on her behalf and saying it - this is for all of Iran. And interestingly, just a couple of weeks ago, Mohammadi actually published an essay from behind bars in The New York Times, and the title was pretty telling. It was called "The More They Lock Us Up, The Stronger We Become."

FADEL: Wow. Even from behind bars, she's sending out these messages. It's been a little over a year since the start of these nationwide protests in Iran, which were sparked by the death of a woman in custody of Iranian police who'd been detained over how she wore her hijab. What role has Mohammadi played in all of that?

FRAYER: Yeah, I mean, it's been a year of Iranian women taking off their headscarves, filming themselves doing it, you know, at incredible personal risk, uploading those clips to social media with a groundswell of support around the world. Iran calls that protest movement Western-led and a distraction. Mohammadi has been behind bars, and even more than a symbolic leader of those protests, she's actually been, like, leading chants on her prison ward, that same slogan - women, life, freedom.

FADEL: Wow.

FRAYER: She's been writing letters to the Iranian government, calling on it to not give the death penalty to women arrested at these protests. This recent round of protests was sparked - the yearlong protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, you mentioned, in Iranian police custody. But now there's actually another case that's captivated people, a teenager who is now in a coma after boarding a train to school one day without her headscarf. It's unclear what happened, but activists cast suspicion on those same Iranian morality police.

FADEL: NPR's Lauren Frayer. Thank you for your reporting, Lauren.

FRAYER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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