GENEVA, May 18, 2023 — A coalition of 25 human rights groups yesterday awarded its prestigious women’s rights award to Shima Babaei, an exiled Iranian women’s rights activist and former political prisoner. Click here for transcript and video of her remarks.
Ms. Babaei received the 2023 International Women’s Rights Award at the 15th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, presented by Genoveva Tisheva, Vice-Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
The ceremony was attended by over 500 UN officials, parliamentarians, human rights activists and journalists from around the world.
“She risked her life and liberty to protest for women’s rights, openly defying the law that forces all women to wear a headscarf,” said Tisheva, one of the UN’s top women’s rights officials, in the award presentation.
“Despite so many hardships, Shima Babaei is a woman who has chosen hope over fear. She dreams of a world where women are treated equally, and she fights for that dream. Her courage and determination have made her a beacon of hope for women in Iran, and around the world,” added the UN expert.
“With this award, we recognize an extraordinary woman, and the fearlessness, fortitude, and solidarity of a whole movement. In 2023, the women and girls of Iran are the embodiment of moral courage,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of United Nations Watch, one of the 25 human rights groups in the Geneva Summit coalition.
“This Award Means A Lot To Me, We Are Fighting Gender Apartheid”
“Receiving this award means a lot to me,” said Babaei, “because as an Iranian woman, we have been living under 44 years of gender apartheid by the Islamic regime. We are seeking our basic human rights, fighting against the world’s most anti-women and anti-freedom regime.”
“I am dedicating the Geneva Summit Women’s Rights Award to those brave Iranians who have joined together to defend freedom, and who won’t stop struggling to achieve their goals, which are admired worldwide.”
“My hope is that this international award will help reach a global audience and promote the Iranian movement whose banner is women, life, freedom.”
Arrested, Imprisoned, Interrogated for Removing Hijab
As a student of architecture in her early 20s, Shima Babaei took to the streets in 2017 and 2018 for the cause of women’s rights, publicly removing her hijab as a sign of protest. She also rallied in support of political prisoners.
As a result, she was repeatedly summoned, arrested and jailed by Iran’s morality police. She was sentenced to prison for the crimes of “removing the hijab in public” and “publishing indecent material on social media.”
In February 2018, Babei was subjected to 21 days of detention in solitary confinement in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, during which she was interrogated 14 times. She was denied access to legal representation.
According to CNN, Babaei’s name became synonymous with the “Girls of Revolution Street” anti-hijab demonstrations that took place across Iran starting in 2017.
Shima and her husband Dariush Zand, a fellow activist, were charged with “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” “publishing falsehoods on social media” and “contact with foreign media.”
Facing six years of imminent imprisonment, the couple fled Iran in late 2018.
Continuing the Fight Abroad
Now based in Belgium, Babaei continues the fight, beyond her country’s borders, against gender discrimination and the mandatory hijab.
When the death in custody of Mahsa Amini sparked mass protests in September 2022, Babaei became a leading voice in the Iranian diaspora.
“At the very same building in the morality police headquarters, they treated me as a criminal, put me in handcuffs and disgraced me,” she told CNN.
Babaei was one of four activists invited to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace, in a landmark meeting for the Iranian opposition with a European leader.
Fighting to Free Her Father, Dissident Ebrahim Babaei
Shima Babaei is also devoted to fighting for the release of her father, Ebrahim Babaei, a former engineering professor and dissident who was forcibly disappeared and imprisoned in December 2021 while attempting to flee Iran.
For years, Ebrahim Babei was repeatedly arrested and brutally punished for peacefully protesting the IRGC, and for supporting his daughter’s activism.
The United Nations reported that he faces “a prison and flogging sentence in two different cases stemming from his peaceful activism, including support of his daughter’s campaigning against compulsory veiling laws. He has several underlying health conditions for which he needs medical treatment and medication, including a heart condition.” He was sentenced to 74 lashes in September 2018 for supporting his daughter.
Amnesty International recently urged tIranian authorities to immediately release Mr. Babaei, “a political activist who remains forcibly disappeared 15 months after attempting to flee Iran,” or to at least disclose his fate and whereabouts.
Previous laureates of the International Women’s Rights Award include Congolese activist Julienne Lusenge, who combats rape as a weapon of war, Pakistani campaigner Gulalai Ismail, who trains women in human rights leadership, and Zarifa Ghafari, the youngest female Afghan mayor and a survivor of three Taliban assassination attempts.
About the 2023 Geneva Summit for Human Rights
Babaei yesterday joined fellow champions of human rights from around the world at this year’s 15th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights, which featured activists, victims, and relatives of political prisoners from North Korea, Afghanistan, Cuba, Russia, Venezuela, Turkey, China, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong and Nicaragua, who testified on abuses in their countries. The event was reported by TIME Magazine, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and other media.
For links to videos, photos and transcripts from yesterday’s Geneva Summit, click here.