By awarding the Sakharov Prize to two Iranian activists, lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and film director Jafar Panahi, the European Parliament acknowledges their plight and their outstanding efforts in their incessant struggle for human dignity, fundamental freedoms and political change in Iran, said President Martin Schulz at the Sakharov Prize award ceremony on Wednesday 12 December in Strasbourg.
The laureates were not able to attend the ceremony in person because they are not allowed to leave Iran.
Nasrin Sotoudeh is held in Evin Prison in Teheran and is in a serious health condition following her seven-week hunger strike, halted at the beginning of December after her daughter's travel ban was lifted. Jafar Panahi's six-year prison sentence has not yet been implemented but he is banned from leaving the country.
In their acceptance speeches, delivered by their representatives Dr Shirin Ebadi and Mr Costa-Gavras, the laureates expressed their gratitude for the prize as a symbol of encouragement.
"I have only one dream; the dream of the realisation of justice and I believe that this dream will be realised in my country, by juridical independence," said Nasrin Sotoudeh in the speech delivered by Dr Ebadi. "Governments should know that in order to maintain their existence, they have no choice but to observe the rights of every individual," she added.
"Now the question is: why do the governments, the almighty and powerful, become more intolerant every day? History is the narrative of the few, making the lives of the many miserable, while using the most unacceptable excuses: difference of sex, language, religion or political ideas," said Jafar Panahi in the speech delivered by Costa Gavras.
The laureates designated five people to represent them at the ceremony:
Dr Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate in 2003
Mr Karim Lahidji,Founder of the Iranian Association of Jurists and of The League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran
Ms Solmaz Panahi,daughter of Jafar Panahi
Mr Costa-Gavras, president of the Cinémathèque Française
Mr Serge Toubiana,director general of the Cinémathèque Française.
"We, in the European Parliament, fully support our laureates' cry for justice and freedom in Iran and for respect for basic rights and freedoms, We are honouring these people who are standing up for a better Iran," said president Martin Schulz, who concluded by calling for the immediate release of Nasrin Sotoudeh.
2012 Sakharov prize laureates
Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh (born in1963) has represented opposition activists, juveniles facing the death penalty, women and prisoners of conscience. She was arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security. She has two children.
Mr Jafar Panahi
Jafar Panahi's (born in 1960) makes films that often focus on the hardships faced by children, the impoverished and women in Iran. He was arrested in March 2010 and is banned for 20 years from directing any movies or leaving the country. His latest film "This Is Not a Film" was smuggled from Iran to the 2011 Cannes Film Festival on a USB stick hidden inside a cake.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded by the European Parliament every year since 1988 and has become a well known symbol of the fight for human rights and democracy.