12 December 2012 – Today, the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Iranian human rights activists Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi.
The prize recognizes the “outstanding efforts in their incessant struggle for human dignity, fundamental freedoms and political change in Iran,” said Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament in his speech.
Sotoudeh, an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist, has represented opposition activists, juveniles facing the death penalty, women and prisoners of conscious. Arrested in 2010 on charges to harm state security, she has been held in solitary confinement and is currently recovering from a 7-week hunger strike.
Panahi, a film director, screenwriter and film editor, makes films that often focus on the hardships faced by children and women in Iran. He is banned for 20 years from directing any movies or leaving the country. However, 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.
Two empty chairs symbolized where Sotoudeh and Panahi would have sat if they were present in Strasbourg to accept the award. In their absence, their representatives Dr. Shirin Ebadi and Mr. Costa-Gavras, delivered acceptance speeches in which the laureates expressed their gratitude for the prize as a symbol of encouragement.
The finalists for the Prize also included Pussy Riot, the opposition artist collective imprisoned in Russia, and Ales Bialiatski, a freedom fighter and human rights defender currently imprisoned by the Belarusian regime.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament. The prize was set up in 1988 to honor individuals or organizations for their efforts on behalf of human rights and fundamental freedoms.