Sakharov prize for Iranian activists


The European Parliament has awarded its top human rights prize to two prominent Iranian activists.

In a move which is likely to anger authorities in Tehran, the Strasbourg assembly today bestowed its annual “Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought” on lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and film-maker Jafar Panahi.

The prize, named after the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, is awarded to exceptional individuals who combat intolerance and human rights violations.

Both recipients are serving prison terms for “spreading propaganda” against the Iranian regime.

Ms Sotoudeh, a mother of two, is a human rights lawyer who represented several imprisoned Iranian opposition activists in the wake of the disputed 2009 presidential elections.

She was arrested in September 2010 on suspicion of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and is currently serving a six-year jail sentence in solitary confinement.

She recently started a hunger strike in protest against the state's harassment of her family.

Mr Panahi, whose films are known for their humanist perspective on life in Iran, was charged with committing propaganda against the government in 2010, sentenced to six years in prison and banned from directing films for 20 years.

His latest film This Is Not a Film was smuggled from Iran to the 2011 Cannes Film Festival on a USB stick hidden inside a cake.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz said the award represented "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".

It first time that the parliament’s human rights prize, which has been awarded since 1988, has gone to Iranians.

The pair were shortlisted for the award by the parliament’s foreign affairs and development committees alongside imprisoned Belarusian human rights campaigner, Ales Belyatsky, and the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot.

Last year’s award went to five representatives of the Arab Spring -Asmaa Mahfouz, Ahmed al-Senussi, Razan Zaitouneh, Ali Farzat, and Mohamed Bouazizi - for their contributions to historic changes in the Arab world.

Past winners of the award include South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, East Timor’s Xanana Gusmao and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

The Strasbourg parliament will present the prize, which is endowed with a €50,000 award, on December 10th, the day on which the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948.

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