Last week in Strasbourg, France, the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2012 to Nasrin Sotoudeh, a jailed Iranian lawyer and human-rights advocate, and to Jafar Panahi, a celebrated film director who has also been imprisoned for his views.
Sotoudeh has been punished by the Iranian regime for representing opposition activists imprisoned following Iran’s disputed presidential elections in 2009. She took it upon herself to defend juveniles facing the death penalty, as well as women and prisoners of conscience. In 2010, Sotoudeh met the same fate as the people she defended and was arrested on charges of propaganda and conspiring to harm state security. She has been held in solitary confinement.
Panahi was arrested that same year and sentenced to six years in jail. His charge? Winning the Caméra d'Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival with his film “The White Balloon.” It was evident that Panahi’s films, with their focus on hardship faced by children, the impoverished and women in Iran, did not go down well with the regime.
It was the bravery and resilience in the face of an oppressive regime that the European Parliament wanted to acknowledge through this award.
The Sakharov Prize 2012 is a message to oppressed Iranian people that though the call for freedom might have been silenced through violence and oppression, their desperate cries have been heard in the European Union and around the world. The award is dedicated to the millions of Iranians who wish to lead a life without an authoritarian government telling them what to do and what to think.
Through the Sakharov Prize 2012, we wanted to send out a strong political message that Europe cannot — indeed, will not — tolerate an Iranian regime oppressing its people. It is a message of support to those who are fighting for freedom and human rights in Iran, and in the rest of the world. The award is consonant with the tough sanctions that the European Union and its international partners, including the United States, have put in place against the Iranian regime.
The Sakharov award to Sotoudeh and Panahi coincided with a planned visit last week to Iran by a delegation of the European Parliament. Our view was that a European Parliament delegation to Iran at this sensitive time should not have sent out the wrong message. The European Parliament delegation made it clear that it should be able to meet with the Sakharov Prize laureates and hand over to them our invitation to receive the prize in Strasbourg next December. With members of Parliament visiting Iran not being allowed to meet Sotoudeh and Panahi in person to hand over the invitation, the European Parliament affirmed that its delegation would terminate its visit there and then. The European Parliament's clear condition could not be met, so the visit had to be called off before it even started.
As the awarding of the Sakharov Prize 2012 shows, the European Parliament’s message is unwavering. While we remain open to dialogue with those who show some good will, it clearly signals our red line: that no collaboration will be possible with an Iran that oppresses its own citizens, continues to violate the non-proliferation treaty and threatens Israel.
Brok is chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is a member of the European Parliament from Germany and hails from the European People’s Party (EPP) Group in the European Parliament.