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Mahsa Amini, women’s movement awarded EU’s top rights prize; Iran blocks family

STRASBOURG, France — The European Parliament on Tuesday presented a top EU rights prize to Mahsa Amini, whose death in Iranian custody sparked mass protests, but her family was blocked by Tehran from attending.

The award—also for the broader "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement—is the latest international recognition for the women challenging Iran's religious government after jailed activist Narges Mohammadi was given the Nobel Peace Prize.

Amini's mother, father and brother missed the ceremony at the parliament in the French city of Strasbourg after Iran's authorities confiscated their passports and barred them from flying to collect the EU's Sakharov Prize.

In a speech read out by the family's lawyer, Amini's mother Mojgan Eftekhari said they were denied the opportunity to attend "in violation of all legal and human standards."

She said her daughter's name "became a secret code for freedom and spread the dream of liberty from her birthplace, Kurdistan, all over Iran, the Middle East and the world."

"Her life was taken unjustly, they believed that by taking her life, they will stop her from being and becoming," said the speech, read out by lawyer Saleh Nikbakht.

Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, died on September 16, 2022 while being held by Iran's religious police for allegedly breaching the Islamic republic's strict dress code for women.

Her death triggered major protests in Iran and a global movement known as "Woman, Life, Freedom," calling for the end of the Muslim cleric-led government in Tehran and its imposition of headscarves on women.

Iranian security forces have cracked down on the protests domestically, killing hundreds, and have executed dozens for allegedly participating in what officials have termed "riots."

The refusal by Iran's government to let Amini's family attend has caused outrage among EU lawmakers, who said Tehran is seeking to stifle her supporters.

'Cannot be silenced'

"That treatment is another example of what the people of Iran face every day," European Parliament president Roberta Metsola said.

"Let me say that the courage and resilience of Iranian women in their fight for justice, liberty and human rights will not be stopped. Their voices cannot be silenced and while they are not here today, their presence will be felt."

The Amini family lawyer Nikbakht—who is appealing a one-year jail sentence in Iran—told AFP he feared being detained immediately upon his return to the country.

Two prominent activists living in exile outside Iran, Afsoon Najafi and Mersedeh Shahinkar, picked up the award in the name of the broader movement.

Najafi's sister died during the anti-government protests that swept Iran in the wake of Amini's death. Shahinkar was shot in the eye by the country's security forces.

"We are standing here on behalf of all the women and we are tired of the regime of the Iran," Shahinkar told a press conference.

"The Islamic Republic is not representative of the Iranian people. I and the people who protest are the sound and the voices of Iranian people."

The EU has imposed sanctions on scores of Iranian officials over the repression of the demonstrators.

Najafi said there are many Iranians who are still "suffering and tortured" by the authorities.

"The Islamic Republic by putting pressure on Iranian people they do not let them do anything," she said.

She called for the international community to further make the authorities in Tehran pariahs for their treatment of the protests.

"The time has come for the politicians to stop supporting them or not to shake their hands," she said. — AFP