In Paris Exile, Family Becomes Proud ‘Voice’ of Jailed Iran Nobel Winner

The address on the invitation to the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize says it all. “Ms. Narges Mohammadi, c/o Evin Prison, Tehran province, Iran.”

Mohammadi, 51, awarded the prize in October in recognition of two decades of work defending human rights in Iran, in defiance of constant persecution by the Islamic republic, remains in prison in Iran with no hope of release, let alone attending the glitzy event in Oslo on Sunday.

Instead, it will be her twin children Ali and Kiana, 17, who will attend the awards ceremony and deliver her speech, sharing the message of a mother of whom they are fiercely proud but who they have not seen for almost nine years and not even spoken to by phone for 20 months.

They now live in Paris with their father and Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani. The awards she has won weigh the bookshelves of their apartment, which is marked by the spirit of the rights campaigner, even as she remains in jail thousands of kilometers away.

“We are not nervous. We are very proud to be able to be the voice of our mother and do our best to move things forward. The prize will reinforce our determination to go to the end,” Ali said.

He emphasized that the prize was not just for her mother but all Iranian women and men who rose up against Iran’s clerical authorities in the protest movement that started in September 2022.

His twin sister, Kiana, proudly showed the dress she bought for the ceremony but insisted “even if I went in my pajamas, what counts is the message, what counts is the speech.”

‘Release almost impossible’

Mohammadi wrote the speech from prison, and it was safely received by her family. But they said they will only read it at the last moment in order to discover its message with everyone else.

Amid all the excitement of the trip to Oslo, the family knows that the prize, whose award to Mohammadi was rapidly denounced by the Iranian authorities, will do little to help her find a way out of Evin prison in Tehran.

“They have a hatred without end for her. And as she won the Nobel Prize her release will be almost impossible. I prefer to anticipate and not be disappointed,” Kiana said.

Narges Mohammadi’s most recent stint in jail began with her arrest in November 2021 and she is embroiled in numerous cases supporters say are linked to her activism.

Prison has marked the life of this family, who struggle to produce any picture showing the four of them together. Taghi Rahmani is also a veteran activist repeatedly jailed in Iran before coming to France a decade ago.

“When we were 4 years old, our dad went to prison. From then on it was either him or our mother in prison. We got used to living without one or the other,” Ali said.

Taghi Rahmani said that the awarding of the prize to Mohammadi had created “many problems” for his wife inside Evin, with the latest restriction a complete cutting off of her right to make phone calls that has yet to be restored.

Mohammadi is prohibited from calling her husband or children in France. But she has been allowed until recently to speak to family inside Iran, crucial communications for staying in touch with the world.

But Rahmani emphasized she was “first of all very happy with the prize as her voice can be heard even more loudly in the world.”

‘Victory not easy but certain’

The years of incarceration have taken a toll on the family, with Ali recalling that their last conversation dates back to just before her most recent jailing.

“She said ‘I am going back to prison, look after your sister and father well and stay strong. Stay strong for me.’ I told her the same thing. ‘We are very proud of you, don’t be worried for us. We support you 100%.'”

He said he believed his mother would be released “when our goal is reached, freedom and democracy is reached.”

“It will be very complicated. But I have a lot of hope to be able to see my mother and a free Iran. My mother has an important saying ‘Victory is not easy but it is certain.'”

In her teenage bedroom full of stuffed animals, makeup and photos, Kiana has a framed photo of Narges Mohammadi with her two children.

“I forgot the sound of her voice, her height, what she looks like in person,” she said. “I accepted this life. It’s a horrible pain to live without your mother, but we don’t complain.”

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