Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died in police custody in Iran last year, sparking worldwide protests against the country’s conservative Islamic theocracy, has been named a finalist for the European Union’s top human rights prize.
The European Parliament on Thursday announced the three finalists for this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, including Amini and “the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement in Iran.”
The selection was “in recognition of their brave effort to stand up for women's rights," said David McAllister, the chair of the foreign affairs committee at the EU Parliament.
Amini died on Sept. 16, 2022, after she was arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s mandatory headscarf law.
The other nominees are Vilma Nunez de Escorcia and Roman Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez — two emblematic figures in the fight for the defense of human rights in Nicaragua — and a trio of women from Poland, El Salvador and the United States leading a fight for “free, safe and legal abortion.”
Amini died three days after she was arrested by Iran's morality police, allegedly for violating laws that require women to cover their hair in public. While authorities said she suffered a heart attack, Amini’s supporters said she was beaten by police and died as a result of her injuries.
Her death triggered protests that spread across the country and rapidly escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s four-decade-old Islamic theocracy.
Authorities responded with a violent crackdown in which more than 500 people were killed and over 22,000 others were detained, according to rights groups. The demonstrations largely died down early this year, but there are still widespread signs of discontent. For several months, women could be seen openly flaunting the headscarf rule in Tehran and other cities, prompting a renewed crackdown over the summer.
The EU award, named for Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, was created in 1988 to honor individuals or groups who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms. Sakharov, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, died in 1989.
The winner will be announced on Oct. 19.