Mahsa Amini

Kurdish-Iranian Woman Who Died in Police Custody Awarded EU Human Rights Prize

The European Union has honored a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman with its highest human rights award after her death in Iran last year triggered global demonstrations against Islamic attire regulations for women in public imposed by the nation’s conservative Islamic theocracy.

The woman, Mahsa Amini, was awarded the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on October 19, alongside “Woman, Life, Freedom,” a global movement inspired by her untimely death. 

During a 2022 visit to Tehran, Iran’s capital city, Amini was detained by the country’s so-called morality police on charges of not wearing a hijab and thereby purportedly violating Iran’s strict dress code for women, which adheres to Islamic guidelines.

Iran’s ruling clerics perceive the hijab as a fundamental pillar of the Islamic republic and regard Western-style attire as a symbol of decadence.

Amini died in police custody on September 16, 2022. The following month, Iranian authorities brutally crushed weeks of widespread street protests. The crackdown resulted in the deaths of more than 500 protesters and the detention of nearly 20,000 others. 

Amini’s death gave rise to the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement, which advocates for the cessation of Iran’s enforcement of headscarves for women and the elimination of other discriminatory statutes.

“The world has heard the chants of ‘Women, Life, Liberty,’” said European Parliament President Roberta Metsola as she announced  the award presented to Amini and the movement that her demise ignited. The prize will be given during a ceremony at the European Parliament in December.

“Three words that have become a rallying cry for all those standing up for equality, for dignity and for freedom in Iran,” Metsola pointed out, adding: “We stand with those who, even from prison, continue to keep Women, Life and Freedom alive.”  

Established in honor of Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought acknowledges the efforts of human rights advocates and dissidents.

Previous winners of the prize include Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani female education activist who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17, becoming the youngest Nobel laureate.