2023 Nobel Peace Prize: Narges Mohammadi | The Iranian activist who continues to fight from behind the bars

The 2023 Nobel Peace prize for Narges Mohammadi comes after a tumultuous year of widespread protests in Iran triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini.

Updated - October 07, 2023 12:56 am IST

Published - October 06, 2023 07:17 pm IST

An Iranian man sees the news of Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi winning the Nobel Peace Prize on his mobile phone, in a cafe in Tehran on October 6, 2023. Photo: West Asia News Agency via Reuters

An Iranian man sees the news of Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi winning the Nobel Peace Prize on his mobile phone, in a cafe in Tehran on October 6, 2023. Photo: West Asia News Agency via Reuters

In 1998, Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi was jailed by the country’s theocratic authorities for the first time while protesting the rampant imprisonment of voices critical of the administration. In 2023, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, while still in prison.

Known for campaigning for women’s rights and the abolition of the death penalty, Ms. Mohammadi was awarded the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize by the Norwegian Nobel Committee on Friday. “Ms. Mohammadi is a woman, a human rights advocate, and a freedom fighter. This year’s Peace prize also recognises the hundreds of thousands of people who, in the preceding year, have demonstrated against the theocratic regime’s policies of discrimination and oppression targeting women,” the committee said in a statement.

The prize comes after a tumultuous year of widespread protests in Iran triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini who died in the custody of the country’s morality police. Ms. Amini had been detained for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely in violation of laws that require women in public to wear the Islamic headscarf. Her death set off protests across multiple Iranian cities with young women marching in the streets and publicly exposing and cutting off their hair, followed by a brutal government crackdown.

Ms. Mohammadi is a globally prominent figure, recognised for her efforts in advocating for women’s rights, prisoners’ rights, and freedom of expression in what can arguably be called one of the world’s most challenging environments for human rights.

A qualified engineer with a degree in physics, Ms. Mohammadi established her roots in the field of activism early on in life. She began advocating for women’s and students’ rights by writing articles while in college, and was arrested twice in university meetings. She has worked as a journalist with platforms like Payaam-e-Hajar, a periodical dedicated to women’s issues (which was shut down in 2000). A passionate mountain climber, Ms. Mohammadi was barred from participating in official expeditions because of her political views.

The Nobel laureate’s long and harrowing tryst with the Iranian prison system is emblematic of how the country’s judiciary stifles dissent. According to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the Iranian regime has “arrested her 13 times, convicted her five times, and sentenced her to a total of 31 years in prison and 154 lashes”. On multiple occasions, she has been held at Evin Prison, a facility in Tehran notorious for prisoner abuse.

In 2003, Ms. Mohammadi joined the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC) and worked closely with the founder Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2003 for promoting democracy and rights of women, children, and refugees in the country. Ms. Ebadi lives in exile in the U.K.

Ms. Mohammadi was arrested in 2010 in connection with her work for DHRC and was released on bail before being arrested again the next year on charges of national security violations. She was sentenced to serve 11 years in prison. Her arrest was protested by international leaders including U.S. Senator Mark Kirby, U.K. politician Dennis MacShane, and Australian M.P. Michael Danby.

She was released shortly after but was summoned by authorities after her speech at the grave of Sattar Beheshti, an Iranian blogger who died under suspicious circumstances at Evin Prison, went viral on social media in 2014.

She was arrested again in 2015 on new charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison. She was released in October 2020 following multiple rounds of hunger strikes and bouts of deteriorating health in prison. She was also transferred from Evin Prison to a prison in Zanjan, the city where she was born.

Ms. Mohammadi was arbitrarily arrested in November 2021 in Karaj while attending a memorial for Ebrahim Ketabdar, killed by Iranian forces during nationwide protests in November 2019. In December 2022, BBC published details of abuse from Evin Prison corroborated by Ms. Mohammadi, in the wake of nationwide protests following the death of Ms. Amini.

Over the years, Ms. Mohammadi was awarded several prizes like the Alexander Lang Award (2009), the Pen Anger Award (2011), the Andrei Sakharov Award (2018), and the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize (2023) for her fight against oppression of human rights in Iran.

She is married to Taghi Rahmani, a pro-reform Iranian activist who lives in exile in France with their two children.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.