(NEW YORK)— The Nobel Peace Prize awarded today to imprisoned Iranian writer, human rights activist, and 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honoree Narges Mohammadi recognizes her singular courage in standing against government repression of women, writers, activists, intellectuals, and cultural figures who face unspeakable consequences for daring to speak out or write, PEN America said.

Commenting on the award, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said, “The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Iranian writer and activist Narges Mohammadi is a tribute to her courage and that of countless women and girls who have poured out into the streets of Iran and faced down one of the world’s most brutal and stubborn regimes, risking their lives to demand their rights. For those of us at PEN America, Narges is an inspiration and also a personal friend, a woman whose story of unyielding defiance at crushing personal costs awakens the righteous indignation within each of us. We applaud the Nobel Committee for putting the weight of its Prize behind the struggle of Narges and all Iranian women for their freedom to dress, behave, think, and write as they wish.

“Narges’ indefatigable will to be heard, even from the darkest, coldest, and most isolated corners of an Iranian prison, is astounding. She championed change in Iran from her jail cell with a passion and bravery that can truly be described as heroic. As a witness to decades of atrocities, she has used her voice as a catalyst to awaken a new generation to understand that their words are one of humanity’s greatest tools. PEN America enthusiastically congratulates Narges Mohammadi and calls for her immediate release.” 

PEN America honored Narges Mohammadi with the 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, which her husband, Taghi Rahmani, accepted on her behalf at the PEN America Literary Gala in New York City in May. Conferred annually, the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recognizes writers who have been jailed for their expression. PEN America galvanized celebrities including John Mullaney, Colin Jost, Candice Bergen, Diane Sawyer, Alec Baldwin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and others to rally to Mohammadi’s cause, drawing international media coverage and global recognition of her plight. Of the 53 jailed writers who have been honored with the PEN America Freedom to Write Award since its establishment in 1987, 46 have been released from prison within an average of about 18 months due in part to the global attention and pressure generated by PEN America’s recognition. This is not the first time PEN America’s Award has led directly to the conferral of a Nobel Peace Prize. PEN’s 2009 Freedom to Write honoree Liu Xiaobo, the President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, the culmination of a campaign set in motion by PEN America.

Narges Mohammadi has been forced to make unimaginable sacrifices for her work, including currently serving multiple sentences totaling more than 10 years in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, where she has been threatened, beaten, and kept in periods of solitary confinement, a practice she has termed ‘white torture’ in her books and writings. Additionally, it has been almost nine years since Mohammadi last saw her husband and two children, who are now in exile in France. And yet, despite these arduous circumstances, Mohammadi continues to defend human rights and speak out against authoritarianism from within prison, drawing attention both to ongoing political events and to abuses against her fellow prisoners. “They will put me in jail again,” she wrote in her book, White Torture. “But I will not stop campaigning until human rights and justice prevail in my country.”

Mohammadi’s case is among dozens of cases of writers and activists who have faced political repression in Iran in the last year alone. Starting in September 2022, the country was swept by a widespread protest movement in favor of democracy and women’s rights following the state’s killing of Mahsa (Jina) Amini. In response, the Iranian regime further cracked down on free speech and arrested thousands for their participation in, or support of, the demonstrations. Iran’s literary and creative communities continue to use writing, art, and music as vehicles to express political dissent, even in the face of the brutal government crackdown. 

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more, visit PEN.org.

For further information or to request an interview with PEN America staff, please contact Dietlind Lerner, [email protected] / +1 310 699 8775

Read More: Narges Mohammadi, The Iranian Writer Speaking Out From Behind Bars


2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award
(PEN America Literary Gala, May 18, 2023)


Tribute Video

Video: Narges Mohammadi’s written acceptance speech read by Tali Farhadian Weinstein

Video: Remarks by Taghi Rahmani

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 18- Suzanne Nossel and Taghi Rahmani attend the 2023 PEN America Literary Gala at American Museum of Natural History on May 18, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for PEN America)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 18: Taghi Rahmani attends the 2023 PEN America Literary Gala at American Museum of Natural History on May 18, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for PEN America)

Tali Farhadian Weinstein and Taghi Rahmani attend the 2023 PEN America Literary Gala, American Museum of Natural History © Beowulf Sheehan and Jeska Sand/PEN America