"This bittersweet moment reminds us of the important, brave, and selfless work of human rights defenders who shape a brighter future for everyone and also of the pushbacks they still face," said the U.N. human rights chief.
An empty chair sat on the stage at the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway on Sunday, symbolizing the absence of the rights activist who was being honored: Narges Mohammadi, who is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence in Tehran for multiple charges related to her activism against Iran's theocratic government.
Accepting the award in Mohammadi's place were her 17-year-old twins, Kiana and Ali Rahmani, who read a speech their mother had prepared.
"I write this message from behind the tall and cold walls of a prison," Mohammadi wrote. "It seems that in the globalized world, either human rights will become respected internationally or human rights violations will continue to spread across state borders."
"The realization of democracy is contingent upon the realization of human rights," she continued. "Human rights have reached the level of historical awareness among the people of Iran and constitute the focal point of the activities of many movements, currents, and groups. It has the capacity and power to create widespread national solidarity and coalitions."
Mohammadi has been a rights campaigner for three decades, most recently serving as deputy head of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in her home country of Iran.
The Nobel Committee chose to honor her "for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all."
In her speech, Mohammadi denounced "the mandatory hijab" as "a disgraceful government policy." Her family has said she's been denied medical care in prison for refusing to wear the head covering.
On Saturday, her family also announced she had begun a hunger strike to protest the treatment of the Baha’i religious minority in Iran and other human rights violations. She has not seen her children since 2015 and has not been permitted to speak to them for two years.
"This bittersweet moment reminds us of the important, brave, and selfless work of human rights defenders who shape a brighter future for everyone and also of the pushbacks they still face," said Volker Türk, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.
Mohammadi ended her acceptance speech with a message of hope, urging human rights defenders to continue "resistance and non-violence."
"With hope and eagerness, and alongside the resilient and courageous women and men of Iran, I extend my hand to all forces, movements, and individuals that focus on peace, the global covenant of human rights, and on democracy," said Mohammadi. "I am confident that the light of freedom and justice will shine brightly on the land of Iran. At that moment, we will celebrate the victory of democracy and human rights over tyranny and authoritarianism, and the anthem of the people's triumph on the streets of Iran will resonate worldwide."