Faces of Freedom: Sakharov Prize Heroes


On Tuesday, the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, posthumously honored Jina Mahsa Amini, who was a 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish activist, with the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and Human Rights. Amini, a symbol of courage within Iran’s ‘Zan, Zendegi, Azadi ‘ (Woman, Life, Freedom) movement in 2022, stood against restrictive veil laws enforced by the Gasht – E – Ershad (morality police) in Tehran. Unfortunately, she faced arrest and subsequent physical abuse while in custody, leading to her untimely death three days later.

The Laureates of the Sakharov Prize 2023 received the award at the ceremony in Strasbourg European Union, 2023 – Source: EP

Tragically, Amini’s family faced further hardships when attempting to leave the country. Iranian authorities imposed a travel ban, preventing them from boarding their flight at the airport. Saleh Nikhbakht, the family’s lawyer, represented the family in Strasbourg and continues to navigate the legal challenges surrounding this case, emphasizing the ongoing struggles for justice and human rights in Iran.

Andrei Sakharov was a prominent Soviet physicist and dissident born on May 21, 1921, in Moscow, Soviet Union. In the 1960s, Sakharov spoke out against the dangers of nuclear weapons and advocated for arms control agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union. He also criticized the lack of political freedoms and oppressive policies under the Soviet regime. As a result of his dissent, Sakharov faced persecution, including exile to the closed city of Gorky in 1980. The decision to create the prize was a tribute to Andrei Sakharov’s courage, dedication to human rights, and his unwavering commitment to freedom of thought.

Established in 1988, the first prize was awarded to Nelson Mandela and Anatoli Marchenko for their contribution towards promotion of human rights and freedom. Some other prominent figures who have also been honoured with this award include Oleg Senstov (filmmaker from Ukraine, 2018), Malala Yousafzai (Pakistani education activist, 2013), Hauwa Ibrahim (Nigerian human rights lawyer, 2005), Mukhtar Mai (Pakistani women’s rights activist, 2005) and the democratic opposition in Venezuela (2017). In 2022, the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize to the people of Ukraine as Roberta Metsola said,

This award is for those Ukrainians fighting on the ground. For those who have been forced to flee. For those who have lost relatives and friends. For all those who stand up and fight for what they believe in. I know that the brave people of Ukraine will not give up and neither will we…

The prize serves not only as recognition for outstanding contributions but also as a beacon inspiring others to stand up against oppression and advocate for a world where fundamental rights are upheld. As we reflect on the diverse array of recipients, it becomes evident that the Sakharov Prize continues to play a vital role in celebrating and amplifying the voices of those who tirelessly strive to create a more just and equitable global society.

A message from Jina Mahsa Amini’s mother:

Jina’s grief is eternal to me, and she is undying for people all over the world. I firmly believe that her name, beside that of Joan of Arc, will remain a symbol of freedom. From the birthplace of eternal Jina, I convey to you my and my family’s endless gratitude and I hope that you will stand firm and proud by your choice. Let us hope that no voice will fear the pronouncement of liberty.


European Parliament (2023). ‘Sakharov Prize: Parliament honours Jina Mahsa Amini and Iranian women protesters’. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/sakharovprize/en/home

Europeana, ‘The Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament and human rights worldwide, Laureates 2012 – 2022’. https://www.europeana.eu/en/exhibitions/sakharov-prize/laureates-2012-2020

Euronews, (2023). ‘EU awards Sakharov human rights prize to Mahsa Amini, Iranian woman who died in police custody’ https://www.euronews.com/2023/12/12/eu-awards-sakharov-human-rights-prize-to-mahsa-amini-iranian-woman-who-died-in-police-cust

European Parliament (2022). ‘The Ukrainian people awarded the European Parliament’s 2022 Sakharov Prize’, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20221017IPR43706/the-ukrainian-people-awarded-the-european

Mehar Allidina

Mehar Allidina

As the team leader of a student-run news website at my university, my background in journalism has equipped me with strong writing skills, which I continuously apply to enhance our content quality. My unwavering passion for global politics has driven me to become an active member of TGO since my first year at UJ, deepening my understanding of international affairs. Currently specializing in European Studies and International Security, I aim to contribute insightful perspectives and in-depth analysis to our website, fostering a broader and more informed discourse among our readers. My dedication to this role ensures that our platform remains at the forefront of delivering engaging and relevant news to our university community.

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