Stop Fundamentalism – Iranian rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh and filmmaker Jafar Panahi are the winners of this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, announced European Parliament President Martin Schulz today at the parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg.
“The award of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the Iranians Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi is 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,” said President Schults after the meeting. “I sincerely hope they will be able to come in person to Strasbourg to the European Parliament to collect their prize in December.”
Both winners are banned from leaving the country. Mrs. Sotoudeh is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence. She is said to be on hunger strike to protest harsh conditions at the prison. Mr. Jafar Panahi, while is not currently in prison, has received a 6-year sentence.
Nasrin Sotoudeh is an Iranian prominent human rights lawyer. She represented many imprisoned Iranian opposition activists and politicians following the disputed June 2009 Iranian presidential elections. She also represented many prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were juveniles. She is one of the top leading lawyers in Iran who has been imprisoned for doing their job in defending their clients.
Sotoudeh was arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security. She has been imprisoned in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin Prison. In January 2011, Iranian authorities sentenced Sotoudeh to 11 years in prison in addition to barring her from practicing law and from leaving the country for 20 years. Her husband, Reza Khandan, says that she has withdrawn all her appeal requests.
Jafar Panahi is an Iranian film director, screenwriter and film editor. He won his first international recognition with his feature film “The White Balloon” in 1995 wining the Caméra d’Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, which was in fact the first major award won by an Iranian film at Cannes film festival. Although Panahi’s films were mostly banned for showing in Iran, he was quickly recognized as an influential filmmaker in the country wining many awards including the Golden Leopard in 1997, the Golden Lion in 2000, the Circle and Silver Bear in 2006 Berlin film festival and many others.
Panahi was arrested in 2010 along with his wife, daughter and several other friends and later charged with “committing propaganda against the Iranian government’. Later he received a six-year prison term and a 20-year ban from cinema work. He is also forbidden from having any media presence and also from leaving the country.
The Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is given yearly to honor exceptional persons who struggle against intolerance, fanaticism and oppression, defending human rights and freedom of expression, say the European Parliament’s website.
The prize which includes a 50,000 Euro cash reward will be awarded by President Schulz at a formal sitting of Parliament during the December plenary session, in Strasbourg.