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The hardships that advocates of women — including Nobel Peace Prize winners — face

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

This morning, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERIT REISS-ANDERSEN: For her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.

SUMMERS: That was the announcement by the Nobel Committee in Oslo, Norway, earlier today. The prize comes as Mohammadi is serving a lengthy prison sentence for her work toward gender equality. Here to talk more about the significance of the award is Azadeh Pourzand. She studies human rights and is a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East and Global Order. Welcome to the program.

AZADEH POURZAND: Thank you very much for having me.

SUMMERS: First, just give us your reaction. What went through your mind when you heard that Mohammadi had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

POURZAND: Yes. I mean, it's been a very bittersweet day. Sweet because, for obvious reasons - this is probably the most prestigious award in this field, and I think that Narges Mohammadi and also the Iranian women at large really, you know, did deserve this level of acknowledgement for their bravery and for standing up against injustice and demanding equality and freedom.

But also, immediately after the sweetness comes the bitterness of the fact that this iconic human rights advocate, along with, really, many other women of her caliber, are currently in jail in Iran simply for standing up for, you know, the voiceless and for human rights, for women's rights. And many others have been in jail and/or are exiled. And so it's a moment to just reflect on the fact that probably, today, she's maybe the most important - the most talked-about woman today in all the media, and we cannot even hear from her at this moment. We don't know if she knows she got the award...

SUMMERS: Wow.

POURZAND: ...Or not.

SUMMERS: I mean, given that - the fact that she remains incarcerated - do you fear that the increased global attention she's receiving due to this award might put her in danger?

POURZAND: I mean, yes, of course it will put her further at a risk. But I think, in these kinds of circumstances, context and the personality and the choices of that individual really matter. The context is decades and decades of repression. And at this point, in my opinion, it's a war that the state has kind of declared on women and youth and minorities. And Narges Mohammadi is someone who has bravely made the choice over and over to take all the consequences and to stand up for what she believes is the correct way ahead around human rights and freedom. She's been repeatedly imprisoned. Every time she has been released, she has almost immediately resumed her activism. Even in prison, she has done wonders...

SUMMERS: Yeah.

POURZAND: ...In terms of activism, advocacy. So I do think that Narges Mohammadi understands the risks, and I do think that, as horrible as it is to say, she's ready for them. And in my experience of her, she will turn this into an opportunity for further activism.

SUMMERS: What have you heard from people in Iran? How are they reacting?

POURZAND: I think that many that I have seen and I've talked with are - you know, are happy, are content. They feel like this is an acknowledgement of what, really, you know, Iranian women and people have gone through. And also, this being sort of soon after the anniversary of the Woman-Life-Freedom movement is sort of a, you know, acknowledgement of the trauma and the bravery that the nation went through last year. At the same time, at the moment, we even have a 16-year-old in a coma in a hospital in Tehran who may have...

SUMMERS: Right.

POURZAND: It - there seems to be evidence that she's a victim of the morality police. So again, the bittersweetness, I think, is a common trend also on social media when it comes to celebrating this important moment.

SUMMERS: We have about 30 seconds left. But according to the prize committee, this prize goes to Mohammadi, but she shares it with the thousands of people who demonstrated against the Iranian government over the past year. Can you just sum up in a few words - what does that mean for the movement?

POURZAND: It means that even if their own government is repressive and violent against their peaceful dissent, that the world has heard them loud and clear and that, you know, the world outside of Iran truly admires their bravery and courage.

SUMMERS: OK.

POURZAND: And hopefully it means that they can go on with their plight.

SUMMERS: We'll have to leave it there. Azadeh Pourzand - she's a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East and Global Order. Thank you.

POURZAND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Gabriel J. Sánchez
Gabriel J. Sánchez is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. Sánchez identifies stories, books guests, and produces what you hear on air. Sánchez also directs All Things Considered on Saturdays and Sundays.
Tinbete Ermyas
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.