* Iranians win EU's Sakharov Prize for human rights
* Russian group Pussy Riot were shortlisted for prize
* Prize, launched in 1988, awarded by European Parliament
By Claire Davenport
BRUSSELS, Oct 26 The European Union's prize for
human rights and freedom of thought was awarded to two Iranians
on Friday, a lawyer and a filmmaker who have both been cut off
from the outside world for defying the country's leadership.
Imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, 49, and
filmmaker Jafar Panahi, 52, were awarded the European
Parliament's Sakharov Prize for their courage in defending their
own and others' basic freedoms, the parliament said.
Named in honour of Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei
Sakharov, the prize has been awarded by the European Parliament
annually since 1988. The first recipients were Nelson Mandela
and Russian author and dissident Anatoly Marchenko. Russian punk
group Pussy Riot was also nominated this year.
"The award... is a message of solidarity and recognition to
a woman and a man who have not been bowed by fear and
intimidation and who have decided to put the fate of their
country before their own," said European Parliament President
Martin Schulz as he announced the winners.
Marietje Schaake, a Dutch liberal member of the parliament
who nominated Sotoudeh for the prize, said the recipients should
draw attention to the repressive action carried out by the
Iranian authorities towards human rights' activists.
"These winners are true symbols of the long struggle the
Iranian people face every day. The systematic repression, use of
violence and censorship are felt by the entire population," she
"This prize gives support to all those Iranians that pay a
high price for their struggle for freedom, justice and dignity."
Sotoudeh was arrested in September 2010 on suspicion of
spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security. She
is now serving a six-year jail sentence in solitary confinement.
She has defended journalists and rights activists, including
Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi and Dutch national Zahra Bahrami,
who was hanged in January 2011 on drug trafficking charges.
"LAW AND JUSTICE"
"I know that you require water, food, housing, a family,
parents, love, and visits with your mother," Sotoudeh began in a
letter written from prison to her children, who were prevented
from seeing after she refused to wear a chador, a full length
"However, just as much, you need freedom, social security,
the rule of law, and justice."
Sotoudeh began a hunger strike on Oct. 17, according to the
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. She is
protesting against a travel ban placed on her daughter and
authorities' limits on visits with her family, ICHRI said.
Sotoudeh's husband, Reza Khandan, told ICHRI that she
appeared "very thin and weak" during his visit on Oct. 21, but
that she refused to break the hunger strike, in which she is
refusing food but not water.
The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed
Shaheed, has urged the Iranian authorities to consider releasing
Panahi began his career working as a cinematographer for the
Iranian army and became a prize-winning director, winning at the
Venice Film festival for "The Circle" in 2000.
Panahi ignored state censors to make films about ordinary
people coming to terms with the country's religious and cultural
codes, the citation said.
In 2006 he made "Offside", which depicted a group of young
women dressing up as men to attend a World Cup qualifying match.
The state's censors were also under the impression that the
women were men but nevertheless withheld a film licence unless
Panahi was prepared to re-edit his four previous films.
In December 2010, Panahi was convicted by Iran's Islamic
republic of making anti-government propaganda and was placed
under house arrest.
An additional 20-year ban on filmmaking did not deter him
and in 2011 he made "This Is Not a Film" about a day in his
life. The film was transported out of Iran on a USB stick hidden
inside a cake and has since been shown to the world.
Film critic Roger Ebert called the work "an extraordinary
act of courage," and American director Steven Spielberg and
French actress Juliette Binoche have been among other film
luminaries who have spoken up for Panahi.
Among other candidates for the prize this year was
Belarussian opposition activist Ales Bialiatski.