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Physicist Narges Mohammadi awarded Nobel Peace Prize for human-rights work – Physics World

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Iranian physicist Narges Mohammadi
Iranian physicist Narges Mohammadi has spent her life fighting against the oppression of women in Iran (courtesy: Reihane Taravati)

The 2023 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the Iranian physicist Narges Mohammadi “for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all”. She becomes the third physicist after Andrei Sakharov in 1975 and Joseph Rotblat in 1995 to have won the prize.

Born in Iran in 1972, Mohammadi studied physics at Imam Khomeini International University. As an undergraduate student in the 1990s, she advocated for women’s rights, writing for the student newspaper and participating in political groups.

After graduating, Mohammadi worked as an engineer at the Iran Engineering Inspection Corporation as well as a journalist for several newspapers. In 2003 she joined the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) as spokesperson and later became the organization’s vice president before it was closed in 2008 by the Iranian government.

In 2009 Mohammadi was dismissed from the Engineering Inspection Corporation and that same year was arrested for the first time for her campaigning. Since then she has been arrested 13 times, convicted five times and sentenced to a total of 31 years in prison by the Iranian government. She is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in Tehran.

Mohammadi has been awarded other prizes for her work including the Per Anger Prize in 2011 – the Swedish government’s international award for human rights and democracy.

In 2018 she was also awarded the Andrei Sakharov Prize from the American Physical Society “for her leadership in campaigning for peace, justice, and the abolition of the death penalty and for her unwavering efforts to promote the human rights and freedoms of the Iranian people, despite persecution that has forced her to suspend her scientific pursuits and endure lengthy incarceration”.

In 2022 Mohammadi published a book – White Torture: Interviews with Iranian Women Prisoners – that includes interviews carried out with 12 Iranian women who have experienced solitary confinement.

Campaigning for peace

The Norwegian Nobel Committee remarked that this year’s peace prize also recognizes the “hundreds of thousands of people who, in the preceding year, have demonstrated against Iran’s theocratic regime’s policies of discrimination and oppression targeting women”.

In September 2022 a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, was killed while in the custody of the Iranian morality police. It triggered the largest political demonstrations against Iran’s regime since it came to power in 1979.

Encieh Erfani, a cosmologist who was a former assistant professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences in Zanjan, Iran, says it is “regrettable” that, owing to the political situation in the country, Mohammadi’s former university is unable to extend its congratulations for her “remarkable” achievement.

“In ordinary circumstances, having a Nobel Prize laureate among their alumni would be a source of pride for any university,” adds Erfani. “However, it is unfortunate that in the context of a dictatorship, even the realm of science experiences profound suppression, and the concept of academic freedom remains elusive.”

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