Iranian dissident wins Geneva human rights prize

Canadian-based author Marina Nemat, an Iranian dissident who was jailed and tortured at the age of 16 will be awarded the annual U.N. Watch human rights prize next week.

The Geneva-based human rights group said in a statement Wednesday it was honoring Nemat, who is a Christian, for the way she has borne witness to crimes committed by Iran.

Nemat aged 16 in Tehran when she was arrested for criticizing the sudden Islamicization of her school curriculum.

She was jailed in Tehran's infamous Evin prison, tortured, and sentenced to death.

As recounted in her best-selling memoir Prisoner of Tehran, which has been printed by publishing houses around the world, Nemat was forced to marry a prison guard to save her life and her family.

"UN Watch is honoring Marina Nemat for her brave and outstanding work worldwide in bearing witness to the horrific crimes perpetrated against her by a regime that continues to assault, jail, torture, rape and execute human rights defenders, religious, ethnic and sexual minorities, and thousands of other innocent men, women and children," said U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.

At a Geneva ceremony to be held on May 22, next to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nemat will address U.N. officials, ambassadors and community leaders.

Both of Nemat's grandmothers had immigrated to Iran from Russia to escape the Russian Revolution, and Nemat was brought up as a Russian Orthodox Christian in Tehran.


She was a high school student when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown as monarch by Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution.

"Marina's clear and compelling testimonies, published in best-selling books and delivered before the United Nations and numerous other global audiences, have helped stir the conscience of mankind to demand fundamental human rights for the voiceless victims of Iran, whose plight has only worsened in inverse proportion to the charm offensive of its rulers."

In a recent report, UN chief Ban Ki-moon criticized Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for is country's increased use of capital punishment since he took office in August.

"At least 500 persons are known to have been executed in 2013, including 57 in public. Those executed reportedly included 27 women and two children," Ban said.

At the Geneva ceremony on May 22 to be held next to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nemat will address U.N. officials, ambassadors and community leaders.

She will receive the Morris B. Abram Human Rights Award, named after the civil rights advocate, diplomat and U.N. delegate who founded the human rights advocacy NGO in 1993.

Previous winners of the prestigious prize include Russian dissident and world chess champion Garry Kasparov, Dr. Massouda Jalal, the first woman in Afghanistan to run for president and to serve as Minister for Women's Affairs, and Esther Mujawayo, an activist for victims of the genocide in Rwanda.

UN Watch's advisory board includes Nobel Peace Prize Laureate David Trimble, Chinese dissident Yang Jianli and Katrina Lantos Swett, Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Each year, together with 25 NGOs, U.N. Watch assembles dissidents to spotlight global human rights issues at its annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, where Nemat spoke in 2013.

"I am honored to receive UN Watch's award and will accept it on behalf my fellow political dissidents, who are currently being tortured in Iranian jails despite Rouhani's promise to improve the protection of political freedoms," U.N. Watch quoted Nemat as saying.

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