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Iranian dissidents win esteemed human rights prize

October 26, 2012 |  7:27 am

Iran eu prize
TEHRAN -- A pair of Iranian dissidents — a jailed human rights lawyer and a banned filmmaker -- were named winners Friday of the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize.

The award went jointly to Nasrin Sotoudeh, an attorney who has represented political activists and others in Iran, and to Jafar Panahi, an internationally acclaimed  director now banned from  movie-making.

“The award … 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,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in a statement.

The prize, named after Andre Sakharov, the late Soviet physicist and political dissident, honors people and organizations that have contributed to human rights or democracy. The prize will be formally awarded in December in Strasbourg, France.

Before the decision was announced, Reza Khandan, the husband of Sotoudeh, said in a telephone interview: “It is an important prize and it is good not only for Iranians but for all mankind.” He later trembled when informed by a journalist that his wife had been honored. 

Among Sotoudeh’s clients have been dissidents imprisoned following Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential elections, juveniles facing the death penalty, women and “prisoners of conscience,” the European Parliament noted in a press release. She was arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and has been held in solitary confinement, the parliament said. She is serving a six-year prison term and faces a 10-year ban from practicing law.

The Iranian lawyer recently began a hunger strike to protest what she calls the harassment of her family and her inability to hug her husband and two young children. During prison visits, the family must communicate by phone from behind a clear barrier.

Panahi first achieved international recognition with his movie "The White Balloon," which won the Camera d’Or prize at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, the European Parliament noted. His films often focus on the fate of children, the poor and women in Iran. His latest work, “This Is Not a Film,” was smuggled from Iran last year on a USB memory stick hidden inside a cake, the Parliament noted.

Panahi was arrested in 2010 and later sentenced to six years in prison and received a 20-year ban on directing any films or leaving the country. He is currently not imprisoned.

The pair were chosen ahead of two other finalists-- Ales Bialiatski, the Belarus dissident; and members of the all-female Russian punk group Pussy Riot, whose prosecution for hooliganism sparked global protests on their behalf.

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-- Ramin Mostaghim. Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut also contributed.

Photo:  An undated handout picture of Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. Credit:  EPA / Mihan News Agency

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