Your impressive story begins with a bicycle.
A bicycle which you were suddenly no longer allowed to ride. You were ten years old when your mother forbade you from racing through the streets on your beloved bicycle, something which all children in Germany do every single day. Your mother did not take away your bicycle as punishment – she did it to protect you, because it had become dangerous for girls your age in Tehran to do what all children do: to ride a bike. You said that, as a ten‑year‑old child, you felt tremendous anger. Why was it okay for your brother, for all the boys in your neighbourhood, to simply carry on riding their bicycles, but not for you? You said that this was a turning point in your life. Allow me to quote you: “It starts when you’re a little girl, this feeling of injustice, of discrimination. You wish you had been born a boy.” But you refused to accept this.
You studied law. And as soon as you completed your studies, you joined forces with other women lawyers to provide legal counsel to women who had been given the death penalty. You used your expertise to be a strong voice for women – and have been doing so to this very day. Even after you yourself were repeatedly arrested because of your work. In 2009, you were able to leave your country and you fled to Europe. But in your absence, you received the scornful conviction of “acting against national security and disturbing public order”. And that meant six years in prison and 74 lashes.
Shadi, you managed to rescue your freedom. And now you are fighting for the freedom and rights of so many others. I believe your story shows everyone here how grateful we can be that we live in freedom. And that this freedom must always impose an obligation on us, precisely because it is such a given.
Shadi, I believe I speak for all of us in this room when I say that it is wonderful that you are here today representing so many brave women from Iran.
You have said that the victims of tyranny want truth. They want justice. For years, your organisation has been collecting data on human rights violations so that the perpetrators can be held accountable. The courage it takes to stand up against injustice, to not give up, but to keep on fighting for justice even when you do not know when it will happen, and doing so at personal risk – this is the incredible courage you share with the many women and men in Iran who are bravely fighting for their rights. The special award you are being honoured with today sends the message that nobody has the right to trample on the freedom of women, of men, of children. I would like to stress that a life in freedom and dignity is not a crime. It is a human right – a universal human right. That is why the Declaration of Human Rights is a “Universal Declaration”, because it is there to protect all people, regardless of their gender, whether they are a man or a woman, young or old, regardless of their skin colour or religion. It is there to protect every citizen on our planet.
Iran has signed the Charter of the United Nations and has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It must live up to these commitments. And as a woman, I wonder, like so many other women here in this room who have been fighting for this issue not only for the past nine months, but for years, for decades: how great must the fear of seeing a woman without a hijab be for Iran’s Chief of Justice to claim that unveiling is tantamount to enmity with the country’s values? How great must this fear be when a new bill intends to cut off the telephone and internet connections of women who remove their hijabs, to freeze their bank accounts and confiscate their ID cards, so that these women are pushed even further out of public life? A country that confines half of its population – be it by removing their access to the internet or their bank accounts – has no future. However, one thing is clear: only Iranians can lead and win the fight for freedom. From the outside looking in, I must say that this is sometimes hard to endure. This, too, however, is what foreign policy is about: enduring – something you have been doing for decades. Even without knowing when the day of justice will come, you keep fighting for it. And we are doing this on a political level, too. We stand with you, we stand with the people in Iran when they demand their legitimate rights. This is a part of feminist foreign policy. But no matter what we call it, it is a part of foreign policy as a whole. Building networks rather than giving up just because things are not moving forward. And we will not give up. We will keep going for as long as girls feel the need to wish they had been born as boys so that they can live in freedom.
That is why we as the European Union have increased pressure on those responsible with unprecedented and targeted human rights sanctions. Today (together with my colleague Jean Asselborn from Luxembourg, who is a familiar face here), we have initiated an eighth package of sanctions. It is for this very reason that we lend the people of Iran our voice in the United Nations, so that evidence can be collected which your NGO can then one day finally use so that crimes do not go unpunished.
Especially when it comes to what is being done to the women and men in prison. And, most importantly, when it comes to the cruellest punishment of all: the death penalty. Based on population, Iran is the country that applies and enforces the death penalty most often. Just last week, another three people were executed in Iran. And why? Because they took to the streets to protest for their freedom. We will continue to do what we can to prevent these death sentences from being carried out. Even if it is unclear whether or not we will succeed. And we will not turn a blind eye when more poison attacks are carried out on school girls. Girls who want to ride their bicycles, who want to do something as basic as going to school. Because, Shadi, as you so rightly put it, the victims need justice. We want to assure the women and men, the young people and the children in Iran, the people on whose behalf you are here and whom we are honouring today with this award, that we will not forget you. We stand with you. And this is what today’s award represents.
Shadi, you said – and I believe this sentiment is shared by so many people in Germany, people who live here, who have found refuge here, as well as people all over the world and especially in Iran – that the killing of Mahsa Jina Amini, the brutal suppression of the protests, filled you with deep sorrow. But that what followed gave you strength again. And then you said something that I think every mother and father would see as a great gift, both here and anywhere else in the world.
Allow me to quote you:
“It is a long road for human rights to be respected in Iran. The protests have accelerated this process. The young people who have launched these protests are my daughter’s age. So maybe, as mothers, we did do something right.”
Let me tell you, you did everything right. We bow before you and your actions. Shadi, I stand here on behalf of those offering this award and I believe for the vast majority of people in our country. We hope so much for the women, the men, the young people and the children in Iran that one day no girl will ever have to think “if only I had been born a boy”. Congratulations on this special award. You, all of you, the people in Iran have more than earned it.