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Jailed Iranian Lawyer Wins Alternative Nobel Prize

Nasrin Sotoudeh won the Right Livelihood Award-- Oct 1, 2020
Nasrin Sotoudeh won the Right Livelihood Award-- Oct 1, 2020

Jailed Iranian lawyer and human rights advocate, Nasrin Sotoudeh, has been named one of the winners of an international award known as the Alternative Nobel Prize.

Sotoudeh is the first Iranian activist to win the award presented by the Right Livelihood Foundation (RLF).

Established in 1980, the annual Right Livelihood Foundation Award honors efforts that the prize founder, philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, felt were missing the Nobel prizes' list.

A statement issued by the Right Livelihood Foundation (RLF) on Thursday said the 2020 winners have one thing in common: "Their struggle for equality, democracy, justice, and freedom."

The head of the Swedish Right Livelihood Foundation, Ole von Uexkull, says the award "highlights the increasing threats to democracy globally. It is high time that all of us supporting democracy around the world stand up and support each other."

RLF also cited the 58-year-old human rights activist, Ales Bialiatski, and the nongovernmental organization Human Rights Center Viasna, which he presides, "for their resolute struggle for the realization of democracy and human rights in Belarus."

U.S. civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson won the award as well "for his inspiring endeavor to reform the U.S. criminal justice system and advance racial reconciliation in the face of historical trauma."

The fourth winner was the environmental activist Lottie Cunningham Wren of Nicaragua, "for her ceaseless dedication to the protection of indigenous lands and communities from exploitation and plunder."

Ole von Uexkull, the foundation's executive director and nephew of the founder, praised the winners on Thursday, adding, "Defying unjust legal systems and dictatorial political regimes, they successfully strengthen human rights, empower civil societies and denounce institutional abuses."

The four winners of the Alternative Nobel Prize, selected by an international jury, each receive a cash prize of one million Swedish kronor (approximately $110,000).

The Right Life Award has been given to civil society, human rights, or environmental activists for nearly four decades.

Jakob von Uexkull, a philanthropist, sold his stamp collection worth $1 million, which provided the award's initial funding.

Before establishing the award in 1980, von Uexkull had tried to persuade the Nobel Foundation to develop new prizes to be awarded together with the Nobel Prizes. He suggested new prize categories to be created: one in ecology and one in development.

When the Nobel Foundation decided not to associate the Nobel Prize with any additional awards, von Uexkull decided to establish his own awards independent of the Nobel Foundation.

From 1980–2019, the foundation presented awards to 178 laureates from seventy countries, with the purpose of bestowing prizes and publicizing recipients' local solutions to global problems.

The winners are selected from among a large number of nominees by a twelve-member panel.

Sotoudeh is currently behind bars in Tehran's infamous prison, Evin.

On March 11, 2019, Judge Mohammad Moqiseh told the Islamic Republic News Agency that Sotoudeh was sentenced to five years for endangering the country's security through assembly and two years for insulting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

A day later, Sotoudeh's husband, Reza Khandan, said that only the longest sentence of the current trial verdicts would be served, which is ten years' imprisonment for "encouraging corruption and debauchery and providing the means."

That is, Khandan noted, out of a total 33 years for seven charges bundled together, and was in addition to five years for another case, bringing the total to 38 years, plus 148 lashes.