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Whistleblower Spotlight: Jailed Iranian Activist Narges Mohammadi

Posted  December 14, 2023

Whistleblowers come in all shapes and sizes.  Some they write movies about, gaining fame (and sometimes fortune) in the process.  Others go in the opposite direction, victimized for their temerity; for daring to sound the alarm when something rubs against their moral compass.  Still others speak their truth quietly, just getting the job done without fanfare or rebuke so they can sleep better at night.  Regardless of their ultimate path, there is a common thread that ties whistleblowers together — trying to make the world a better place for the rest of us, no matter their own personal cost.

This whistleblower motif perfectly sums up Narges Mohammadi.  As reported in the New York Times this week, Mohammadi received the Nobel Peace Prize last Sunday (December 10) in Oslo for her years of fighting for humans rights in Iran.  Unfortunately, she was not there to collect her prize because she is in jail in Iran.  She has been there for years and if Iran has its way, she likely will remain there for years to come.

According to the Times, she has not seen her children since 2015 when they fled Iran for France.  And she has not spoken with them for two years since Iranian prison authorities banned her from phone contact.  What is the cause for all this pain and misery?  Merely standing up and speaking out against the way the Iranian government oppresses women.  Here is how Mohammadi frames it herself:

We, the people of the Middle East in countries like Iran and Afghanistan, have experienced life under tyranny and discrimination and discovered the necessity of implementing the concepts of freedom, democracy, and human rights even before recognizing and understanding them through the study of scholarly theories and scientific texts.  We have arisen to fight against the violators and enemies of these concepts because from our very childhood we are exposed to the domination, blatant and hidden violence, tyranny, and discrimination of authoritarian regimes in our daily lives.

This from a letter she wrote thanking the Nobel Committee, which she was able to have smuggled out of prison, and which her daughter read at the awards ceremony.  Mohammadi expressed gratitude to the Nobel Committee “for its powerful, clear, and meaningful recognition of The Power of Protest demonstrated by the people of Iran in their revolutionary and social movements.”

She also touched upon some of the key moments in her own journey that has compelled her to a life of protest.  The torture and execution of her own family members when she was a child.  Her detainment as a 19-year old for simply wearing an orange coat, and where she witnessed other women-detainees being whipped without cause.  And most recently, the death last year of Mahsa-Jina Amini while in police custody for not wearing a proper “hijab,” and the wave of arrests, torture, and deaths that came with the protests that followed.

But true to Mohammadi’s form, she used the letter — by now read round the world — as a platform to promote the promise and potential for positive change:

The strength of this movement lies in the agency of Iranian women.  We assuredly know what we want far better than what we do not want.  We believe in it, commit to it, and are certain of victory!  We, the people of Iran, demand democracy, freedom, human rights, and equality . . . .  We have decided and are struggling to transition away from this religious authoritarian regime through solidarity and drawing on the power of a non-violent and unstoppable process in order to revive the honor and pride of Iran and human dignity and prestige for its people. . . .   Victory is not easy, but it is certain.

It is clear from all this that Mohammadi will not be silenced.  Even in prison.  If anything, her voice has grown even louder.  Her absence from the Nobel ceremony further adding fuel to her fire.  In the words of Iranian journalist and activist Omid Memarian, who attended the Nobel ceremony, it “casts a glaring spotlight on the Iranian government’s disregard for human rights.”

It remains to be seen how Iran responds to this onslaught of Mohammadi’s praise and promotion.  If Iran responds at all.  But one thing is for certain.  Mohammadi’s words and deeds are having an impact.  Shining a much-needed spotlight on the darkness that shrouds how Iran and other like-minded countries are oppressing woman and stomping on human rights more broadly.  No matter the cost to her own safety and well-being.

Like the true hero, the true inspiration, the true whistleblower she is.

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