UN Watch, GENEVA, October 15, 2020 — United Nations Watch, the Geneva-based non-governmental human rights organization, announced today that Shaparak Shajarizadeh, who was jailed and beaten in Iran for removing her headscarf in public protest, will receive the Swiss organization’s highest human rights award at the 2020 UN Watch Online Gala on November 1.

“Shaparak Shajarizadeh was chosen for her fearless defense of the rights of women, for which she was brutalized,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based non-governmental human rights organization. “Her mission to defend the human dignity and equal rights of women in Iran has never been more vital.”

“I am greatly honored to receive this award from UN Watch,” said Shajarizadeh. “This important international recognition makes me feel more encouraged to continue my small share of changing the world on behalf of the brave Iranian women, and women all around the world, who are risking their lives each day to seize their dignity, fight for equality, and defend human rights.”

Leader in Iranian Women’s Civil Disobedience Movement

Shajarizadeh became a leader in the “Girls of Revolution Street” and White Wednesday civil disobedience movements, protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab laws.

She was arrested by the regime for taking off and waving her white headscarf in public, as part of a women’s rights protest that caused a social media storm.

Released from prison, Shajarizadeh managed to escape the country, crossing the mountains into Turkey on foot.

Today she lives in Toronto, where she continues to fight against Iran’s discrimination of women, testifying at the Canadian Parliament and campaigning at public events and on social media.

Shajarizadeh is a Senior Fellow at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and recently co-authored a book in French about her struggle, “Freedom is Not A Crime.”

In 2018, she was named by the BBC as one of the 100 most inspiring and influential women around the world.

Earlier this year, she called out Iran’s abuses at the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, in testimony organized by UN Watch. 

Shajarizadeh has been outspoken in Time magazine and elsewhere on behalf of her lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh — currently imprisoned in Iran on a 38-year sentence for representing women opposed to the compulsory hijab — whom Shajarizadeh credits with having saved her life.

Morris Abram Award & UN Watch

The award, which is UN Watch’s highest human rights distinction, commemorates the legacy of UN Watch’s founder, the late Ambassador Morris Abram, a pioneering civil rights advocate, diplomat and UN delegate, who in 1963 helped win the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that granted equality to the votes of African-Americans.

Previous winners of the prestigious prize include Cuban dissident Rosa María Payá; Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar; Chinese dissident Yang Jianli; Antonio Ledezma, the Mayor of Caracas and former political prisoner; Russian dissident and world chess champion Garry Kasparov; Dr. Massouda Jalal, Afghanistan’s first Minister for Women’s Affairs; and Esther Mujawayo, an activist for victims of the genocide in Rwanda.

UN Watch organizes the annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, a key gathering for dissidents, and brings victims to testify before the United Nations Human Rights Council, including victims from China, Cuba, Egypt, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Sudan and Venezuela.

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