(NEW YORK / OSLO) – Imprisoned Iranian writer and activist Narges Mohammadi received the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia at Oslo City Hall today. Delivering the Nobel lecture prepared by their mother were Mohammadi’s children Kiana and Ali Rahmani. The 17-year-old twins haven’t seen their mother since they fled Iran in 2015 and have been unable to speak with her since Iranian prison authorities banned Mohammadi from phone contact with them almost two years ago. The lecture included the following remarks:

“I write this message from behind the tall and cold walls of the prison. I am a Middle Eastern woman, belonging to a region that, despite having a rich civilization, is now trapped amid war, the fire of terrorism, and extremism. I am an Iranian woman, a proud and honorable contributor to civilization, who is currently under the oppression of a despotic religious government. I am a woman prisoner who, in enduring deep and soul-crushing suffering resulting from the lack of freedom, equality, and democracy, has recognized the necessity of their existence and has found faith…In my belief, the globalization of peace and human rights is more fundamental and effective than the globalization of any other matter.

The reality is that the consequences and repercussions of human rights violations, which are the cost of maintaining authoritarian governments, do not remain within geographical borders. The severe and irreparable consequences of migration, displacement, the emergence of wars, unrest, military interventions, and the creation of a conducive environment for the growth of terrorist groups and extremism, such as the wide-ranging consequences of interstate warfare, spread throughout the entire world.

It seems that in the globalized world, either human rights will become respected internationally or human rights violations will continue to spread across state borders. I will contribute my share alongside human rights activists and defenders to the global realization of human rights.”

Mohammadi, 51, is currently being held in Evin Prison, where she is serving multiple politically motivated sentences totaling more than three decades. Over the years, she has been subject to numerous ordeals, including abusive treatment in custody, prolonged periods in solitary confinement, and enforced separation from her immediate family. Despite the high price she has paid for her outspokenness and activism–which has included being denied phone calls with her siblings in Iran in recent weeks, effectively cutting off contact with her entire family–Mohammadi continues to defend human rights and speak out against authoritarianism from within prison, writing letters and taking action to draw attention both to ongoing repression in Iran and to abuses against her fellow prisoners. On December 10, she announced that she is undertaking a hunger strike in support of Bahai prisoners of conscience, including the poet and community leader Mahvash Sabet, who has been unjustly sentenced to a 10-year prison term.

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, who attended the Nobel ceremony as a guest of the family, said, “Today, the Nobel committee honors a fearless human rights champion who wields the written word to create vital change. Narges Mohammadi has dedicated her life to promoting ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ in Iran. Her wisdom and determination are so potent that the government of Iran prefers the humiliating spectacle of the world honoring her in absentia to the risk of allowing her to speak her mind.  Even as Narges sits behind bars, her words and ideas travel freely, inspiring legions of women and girls in Iran and scores of supporters around the world to join her cause and demand her unconditional release. PEN America is deeply honored to support Narges, her family, and her ideals over many years and is deeply moved that the Nobel committee has chosen to recognize someone we’ve come to consider a friend.” Narges Mohammadi was the 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honoree.

Calls for Mohammadi’s release grew even louder following the announcement by the Nobel Committee of Mohammadi as the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize honoree “for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.” A PEN America open letter calling for the Iranian government to free Mohammadi in time to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony was signed by hundreds of the world’s most prominent writers, artists, human rights activists, and civil society organizations, including fellow Nobel Laureates Shirin Ebadi, J.M. Coetzee, and Orhan Pamuk; actors, writers, and academics including Emma Thompson, Margaret Atwood, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, George Saunders, Khaled Hosseini, John Green, Mary Karr, Sandra Cisneros, Fariba Adelkhah, Azar Nafisi, Nazanin Boniadi, and Viet Thanh Nguyen; and several dozen civil society organizations, including Freedom House, Frontline Defenders, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Human Rights in Iran, PEN International, and more than 30 PEN Centers from around the world. 

In closing, the PEN America letter states, “It is a moral imperative to prioritize human rights over political considerations and to advocate for the freedom of those who use their voices to defy tyranny and champion justice and equality. Narges’ continued imprisonment is not just a violation of her rights but a stark reminder of the extent of the brutal persecution still faced by political dissidents and human rights defenders in Iran and around the world today.”

Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America’s Writers at Risk program, who was also in Oslo to support Narges’ family, said “The Nobel Peace Prize is the most important human rights award in the world, and we are delighted that Narges was honored this year. And yet, this is a bittersweet moment, and we wish above all that she could be here to receive the prize in person. Through her words and activism, Narges Mohammadi has long worked to advance human rights, and in recent years has worked tirelessly on behalf of the multitudes of political prisoners held unjustly in Iran’s prisons. We encourage the international community to follow the lead of the Nobel committee in recognizing the vital role writers play in creating open and free societies and to take urgent steps to protect at-risk writers.”

This is not the first time a PEN America Freedom to Write Award honoree has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. PEN America’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 the Freedom to Write Award. Like Mohammadi, Liu Xiaobo was not released from prison before the award and was represented by an empty chair at the ceremony. This gesture has been adopted by writers throughout the global PEN network to honor and show solidarity with their jailed colleagues. According to data collected for PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, Iran jailed at least 57 writers and public intellectuals, the second-highest number in the world, in connection with their writing, their work, or related activism in 2022, including Narges Mohammadi.

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