Iran Human Rights – Two Empty Seats Tell The Story

Nasrin Sotoudeh (left) and Jafar Panahi (right) won 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

Stop Fundamentalism – Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, winners of this years European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, were absent at the awards ceremony today at the parliament's Strasbourg headquarters.  The two winners are barred from leaving the country and Sotoudeh currently is serving a six-year prison sentence for defending dissidents and speaking out against juvenile executions.

The award presentation symbolizes European Parliament's recognition of struggle to defend human rights by the two.

Designated representatives of the winners received the award in their place at the ceremony today.

"The situation in Iran is critical," said European Parliament Persident, Martin Shultz. "The root of the problem suffered by these proud people is a fanatical regime," he added at the ceremony.

Shultz condemned Iranian regime's unaccountability for its actions as people are "imprisoned for saying their opinion."

Shultz stressed that, "the Iranian regime should know this institution stands on the side of the repressed."

In her acceptance speech delivered by Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Iranian 2003 Nobel Peace prize winner, Nasrin Sotoudeh said, "I have only one dream, the dream of the realization of justice and I believe that this dream will be realized in my country."  Sotoudeh added, "Governments should know that in order to maintain their existence, they have no choice but to observe the rights of every individual."

Jafar Panahi, represented by Costa-Gavras, President of the Cinémathèque Française, said "History is the narrative of the few, making the lives of the many miserable, while using the most unacceptable excuses: difference of sex, language, religion or political ideas."

Nasrin sotoudeh, just recently ended a 49 day hunger strike, leaving her weak and health wise in critical condition. She started the hunger strike to protest prison conditions and a foreign travel-ban imposed on her daughter and husband after she was nominated to received the Sakharov Prize.  She ended the strike after the travel ban on her daughter was lifted by the government.

Panahi is not in prison currently but he faces a six year prison sentence and is banned from leaving the country.

President Shultz called for the immediate release of Nasrin Sotoudeh adding that the European Parliament is honoring these people who are standing up for a better Iran.

Former Sakharov Prize winners include Nelson Mandela, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Kofi Annan.  The prize is awarded to exceptional people who take a stand against intolorace, fanaticism, and  oppression.  It is to defend human rights and freedom of expression.

Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was named after the Soviet scientist Andrei Sakharov and is awarded annually by the European Parliament.

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