The prestigious award, established in 1988, is named after the Soviet-era political dissident, physicist, and Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov.
Two Iranian civil society activists – Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi – have received the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The prestigious award, established in 1988, is named after the Soviet-era political dissident, physicist, and Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, and is given to honor individuals or organizations that courageously defend human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The other finalists were imprisoned Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski and Russian punk band musicians Nadezhda Tolokonnikova , Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina.
In announcing the joint winners, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said that the award of this year’s prize to Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi “is a message of solidarity and recognition to a woman and a man who have not been bowed by fear and intimidation and who have decided to put the fate of their country before their own.”
Nasrin Sotoudeh is an Iranian lawyer and human rights advocate who has defended many political dissidents, as well as abused women and children. Now she is herself in Evin prison, serving a six-year sentence for the so-called crimes of spreading propaganda and acting against national security. She is also prohibited from practicing law for ten years. Ms. Sotoudeh has participated in a number of hunger strikes to protest prison conditions, as well as the regime’s harassment of her husband and children.
Jafar Panahi is a renowned Iranian film director and screen writer, whose films focus on the hardships of women and children. In 2010 he was sentenced to six years in prison for the supposed crime of “conspiring against the ruling system.” He has been released on bail but is barred from making films or leaving Iran for twenty years. At his trial, Mr. Panahi reportedly described his prosecution by the government as part of an attack on Iran's entire art and cultural community.
In a statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton congratulated this year’s recipients of the Sakharov Prize: “The work of Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi to uphold human rights and promote freedom of expression represents the desires of all Iranians to exercise their basic rights and freedoms,” she said. “Unfortunately, they will not be able to enjoy [the] recognition. . . .We call on the Iranian government to release Sotoudeh immediately, lift the restrictions and sentence on Panahi and release all political prisoners and others detained simply for their religious or political beliefs.”