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Iran blocks Mahsa Amini's family from collecting a human rights prize in her name

A portrait of Mahsa Amini is held during a rally in Washington, on Oct. 1, 2022. Amini, who also went by her Kurdish name, Jina, died in police custody in Iran last year, sparking worldwide protests against the country's conservative Islamic theocracy. She was awarded the European Union's top human rights prize on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023.
Cliff Owen
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AP
A portrait of Mahsa Amini is held during a rally in Washington, on Oct. 1, 2022. Amini, who also went by her Kurdish name, Jina, died in police custody in Iran last year, sparking worldwide protests against the country's conservative Islamic theocracy. She was awarded the European Union's top human rights prize on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023.

The family of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year old woman whose September 2022 killing sparked countrywide protests in Iran, has been prohibited from traveling to France to collect a human rights award in her name.

According to the U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), Amini's father, mother and brother were prevented from boarding a flight at Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport on Saturday. They were informed they were banned from traveling and their passports were then confiscated by security forces.

In an interview with London-based Iran International, Mahsa's father, Amjad Amini, said that the family was not given a reason for the travel ban.

"I said 'We have to know why, for what reason?' But no one gave us answer," Amini said.

He added he'd informed the authorities of the family's plan to travel a month in advance but was not made aware of a travel ban until they were at the airport.

The family's lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, was allowed to travel to Strasbourg, France, to collect the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Mahsa Amini, who also went by her Kurdish name, Jina, diedwhile in the custody of Iran's Morality Police. She was accused of violating Iran's strict dress code for women, also known as the hijab. Her death was a catalyst for protests that swept the country for months, and brought Iranians from across socio-economic and religious backgrounds to the streets.

Silencing activists

The use of travel bans is common in Iran, Gissou Nia, an Iranian-American human rights lawyer and analyst at the Atlantic Council told NPR. It's often used to prevent activists from going overseas, where they might get more media attention for their cause.

"And there's a heightened sensitivity that her family's presence would shine a light on the situation in Iran," said Nia, adding Iranian authorities clearly wanted to avoid the optics of a bereaved family speaking on an international stage about how the brutality of Iran's Morality Police caused the death of their loved one.

"They know what happened with Mahsa Amini is problematic for them, and they really want people to think that it wasn't reflective of a systemic problem," Nia said.

"But this [travel ban] clearly shows that they know that this isn't the case — they don't want the family's voices to be heard."

Amini's father, Amjad, was also detained on the anniversary of her death when a massive security presence prevented large protests and rallies.

"Woman, Life, Freedom," the slogan coined in protests after Amini's death, wasn't just a rallying cry against the enforcement of the hijab or for women's rights. It came to represent a demand for major reforms across Iran, which has been ruled by hardline clerics since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Iranians face constant crackdowns on free speech, press freedom, LGBTQ rights, manners of dress, public displays of affection, dancing or performing music in public, and more.

Since those protests, according to HRANA, at least 19,000 have been arrested in the country. At least seven people have been executed for their ties to the protests, according to the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Several others, including rappers Toomaj Salehi and Saman Yasin, remain imprisoned and face the possibility of execution.

Despite the crackdowns, Mahsa Amini's name and the slogan born from her death remain synonymous with the human rights movement in Iran.

At Sunday's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, in Oslo, Norway, the prize was awarded to another Iranian woman, human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who remains imprisoned in Iran.

Mohammadi's daughter, Kiana Rahmani, started a speech at the ceremony honoring her mother's work with "Zan, Zendegi, Azadi" — Farsi for "Woman, Life, Freedom."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

D. Parvaz
D. Parvaz is an editor at Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, she worked at several news organizations covering wildfires, riots, earthquakes, a nuclear meltdown, elections, political upheaval and refugee crises in several countries.