Two Iran prisoners of conscience receive Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

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Sakhraov Prize winners 2012
The Sakharov Prize winners for 2012, Jafar Panahi and Nasrin Sotoudeh, are both prisoners of conscience in Iran who face numerous years in prison. International advocates are now working to bring attention to the human rights abuses both of them face while in prison. Image: EP

(WNN) Strasbourg, FRANCE: As the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was awarded to two prisoners of conscience in Iran, advocates world wide are celebrating. Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and filmmaker Jafar Panahi are the chosen awardees of the prize this year.

In recognition of the award, human rights organizations, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI), have expressed their solidarity and support of the award for awardees who have shown heroism to stand up under conditions of abuse as they continue to strive toward human rights at all costs. They are also asking for the immediate release of Sotoudeah and Panahi.

“The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named in honor of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded by the European Parliament every year since 1988 to individuals or organizations that have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy,” said the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights today. The prizes each include a cash award of €50,000 ($64,655 USD).

“This is a great victory for Nasrin, Jafar and for all Iranian human rights defenders,” says Karim Lahidji, FIDH vice-president, who is also the president of  LDDHI. “But we are extremely worried about Nasrin’s health which is rapidly deteriorating after ten days of hunger strike,” Lahidji continued. “We therefore urge Iranian authorities to release her and immediately stop subjecting her to arbitrary and punitive conditions of detention.”

Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer from Iran, is known for defending juveniles facing the death penalty in Iran. She has also defended numerous prisoners of conscience. Sotoudeh is also a member of the organization that is part of the FIDH, the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC), founded by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Detained in Evin prison since September 2010, Soutoudeh has been subjected to increasingly restrictive and clearly discriminative and arbitrary conditions of detention. In recent weeks Nasrin’s prison visiting day has been changed to a day that makes visits from her family members much more difficult; from Sunday to Wednesday. This change has been made without any legitimate ground being provided by the prison authorities and has limited visits from her family over the past three months.

“She has already come close to death in 2010 after three hunger strikes to protest her conditions of detention and violations of due process during her trial,” added Lahidji.

Sotoudeh previously has been held for long periods of time in solitary confinement as she has been denied contact with both her family and lawyer. She also reportedly suffered acts of torture in prison in attempts made to force her to confess says FIDH and advocates.

On July 11, 2012 Iranian authorities banned Sotoudeh’s husband as well as her 12-year-old daughter from traveling abroad.

“The conditions of detention imposed on Nasrin Sotoudeh are unacceptable and clearly aim at imposing additional punishment on her for her human rights activities,” says Souhayr Belhassen, current president of FIDH.

Born in 1960, Iranian film director, screenwriter, film editor and co-awardee of the Sakharov Prize Jafar Panahi first achieved international recognition with one of his early films called The White Balloon which won the 1995 Cannes Film Festival for Caméra d’Or. Often depicting the life and hardship faced by Iranian women, children and those suffering under exclusion in Iranian society, Panahi has been sentenced to a six year term of prison inside Iran. He also faces a 20-year ban on directing a film; as well as a 20 year stop on being able to leave the country for any reason.

“Panahi was convicted of ‘propaganda against the state’ for having exercised his right to peaceful freedom of expression through his film-making and political activism. He was specifically accused of making an anti-government film without permission and inciting opposition protests after the disputed 2009 presidential election. Panahi’s artistic collaborator, Mohammad Rasoulof, was also sentenced to six years in prison,” said Amnesty International USA in a statement made before Panahi began to serve his prison term.

Smuggled from Iran to France on a data storage flash drive hidden inside a cake, Panahi’s latest film This is Not a Film managed to reach the 2011 Cannes Film Festival in time to be included in the festival.

“…our thoughts also go to Ales Bialiatski, one of the other two finalists for the Sakharov Prize. Ales, who is the founder of Viasna Human Rights Centre in Belarus and FIDH vice-president, has also been arbitrarily detained since August 2011 and FIDH will relentlessly continue to fight for his release,” added Belhassen.