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Human Rights Activist Accepts Prestigious Award From Prison

American Physical Society's Andrei Sakharov Prize for Narges Mohammadi,Iranian human rights activist currently in prison.

Iranian Physicist Narges Mohammadi has been awarded the American Physical Society’s 2018 Andrei Sakharov Prize for outstanding leadership and achievements by scientists in upholding human rights, but was not able to receive the honor in person as she is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence in Iran.

Not to be confused with European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, the American Physical Society (APS) prize of $10,000 is awarded every two years to scientists, with this year’s honor going jointly to Ms. Mohammadi and Indian physicist Ravi Kuchimanchi

“Sitting here in the prison, I am humbled by the honor you have bestowed on me and I will continue my efforts until we achieve peace, tolerance for a plurality of views, and human rights,” Mohammadi said in a message read on her behalf at the awards ceremony in Columbus, Ohio April 16.

Mohammadi went on to demand independence for universities in Iran, and compared the control over the sciences and other intellectual endeavors exerted by the government and religious authorities to the Middle Ages in Europe.

Iranian human rights activist, Narges Mohammadi, undated.
Iranian human rights activist, Narges Mohammadi, undated.

“[The regime] does not tolerate differences of opinion; it responds to logic not by logic, discussion or dialog, but by suppression. By tyranny I mean a ruling power that tries to make only one voice—the voice of a ruling minority in Iran—dominant, with no regard for pluralism in the society,” Mohammadi wrote. Her message was read by prominent Iranian academic Nayyereh Tohidi.

Named after Russian scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, the eponymous prize was launched by the American Physical Society (APS) in 2006.

The APS says Mohammadi was recognized this year “for her leadership in campaigning for peace, justice, and the abolition of the death penalty and for her unwavering efforts to promote the human rights and freedoms of the Iranian people, despite persecution that has forced her to suspend her scientific pursuits and endure lengthy incarceration.”

Mohammadi is the second Iranian to win the award. Laser physicist Omid Kokabee received the prize in 2014.

“Even the walls of Evin Prison have not been able to stop Narges Mohammadi from being a leading defender of women’s and human rights in Iran,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

In 2009 Mohammadi was dismissed from her job as an engineer with the Iran Engineering Inspection Corporation and imprisoned. Her incarceration is widely viewed as retribution for her public advocacy of women’s and human rights.

Her husband, political activist Taqi Rahmani, lives with their twin children Ali and Kiana in France. In July 2016, Mohammadi went on hunger strike, forcing the authorities to allow her to speak to her family on the phone.

The last time Mohammadi’s children were able to visit her was June 2015, according to CHRI.

“Thoughts and dreams don’t die,” Mohammadi wrote in her acceptance speech. “Belief in freedom and justice does not perish with imprisonment and torture, and even death and tyranny do not prevail over freedom, even when they rely on the power of the state.”