US human rights watchdog Freedom House has presented its 2023 Freedom Award to Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza and the "women of Iran" in recognition of their "unwavering commitment and activism to advance democracy and freedom."
The May 9 award ceremony in Washington was attended by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who pointed out that "hundreds of thousands of Iranian women, girls...have demanded their basic freedoms be respected, even in the face of the most brutal repression."
Actress and rights activist Nazanin Boniadi and Aida Ghajar of IranWire, the first news outlet to have reported the beating of Mahsa Amini while in police custody and hospitalization, accepted the recognition on behalf of the women of Iran.
Amini was arrested in Tehran in September 2022 for allegedly wearing a headscarf improperly. Anger over her death has prompted Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand fundamental economic, social and political changes. The Iranian security forces have unleashed a brutal clampdown on the women-led protest movement, killing hundreds of people during demonstrations and unlawfully detaining over 20,000 others, activists say. Following biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
"Today, Mahsa’s name has become a symbol of the battle for the liberation of women from oppression in the world," Ghajar said in her speech at the Freedom Award ceremony. "We must never forget, in the past eight months, at least 500 protesters have been killed, at least 580 protesters have lost one or both eyes and thousands of Iranians have been imprisoned and tortured for saying 'no more.'"
"The fight of the Iranian women and the people to free Iran from this dictatorial, theocratic, oppressive and misogynist regime started 44 years ago," she said, adding, "Every year, there are more and more grieving mothers who hold up pictures of their murdered loved ones and demand truth and justice."
Iranian journalists who have been trying to "tell the truth and defend the right to know" have ended up behind bars, Ghajar noted, mentioning Niloofar Hamedi, Elaheh Mohammadi, Narges Mohammadi. Others, like Mehrnoosh Zarei, Nasim Sultanbeigi and Saeideh Shafie, are being prosecuted.
Blinken pointed out that "unfettered access to the internet is essential for defending human rights and human freedoms."
"Aida Ghajar’s news outlet IranWire used the internet to receive critical information from inside Iran to do everything from documenting an accurate death toll from the repression of protests, to sharing live footage of the regime’s crackdown, to gathering and disseminating reporting by its network and citizen journalists," the secretary of state added.
In a statement, Freedom House hailed the women of Iran for demonstrating "remarkable courage and resilience in the face of ongoing persecution and discrimination by their country’s regime."
The non-profit organization said that Kara-Murza, a Russian democratic opposition leader, Washington Post contributor and historian, has "waged a relentless fight against corruption and repression" in Russia. Last month, he was handed a 25-year prison sentence for criticizing the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and calling for sanctions against President Vladimir Putin's regime.