Two Iranian dissidents have been awarded the EU’s annual Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought but were unable to come to Strasbourg to collect it in person. Two empty chairs marked where they should have sat.
Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who represents opposition activists, is being held in solitary confinement. Banned film director Jafar Panahi is under house arrest.
Iranian Lawyer Shirin Ebdabi, who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, described to those gathered at the ceremony what life is like in Iran:
“These two empty chairs are the sign of the Islamic republic regime’s behavior with its own citizens, a regime which for more than 30 years has continued to rule via suppressing the people.”
Nasrin Sotoudeh defended opposition activists after the disputed 2009 presidential elections, as well as helping women and young people. She is now serving a six-year jail term for “acting against the national security” and was recently on hunger strike.
Jafar Panahi, whose documentaries have won him awards around the world, was put under house arrest in 2010 and banned from filmmaking for 20 years.
The prize is named after the Soviet physicist and outspoken dissident Andrei Sakharov.