The prize committee wishes to acknowledge Tavakoli for his non- violent fight for freedom of speech and democracy. “The Student Peace Price is this year awarded to a young and brave person,” commented the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre.
Currently, Tavakoli is serving a prison sentence of nine years because of a speech he held in 2009, criticizing the Iranian regime. A couple of months earlier, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been reelected President; the presidential election was condemned as undemocratic by the opposition, as well as by foreign organizations and leaders. The election provoked large public demonstrations, which led the regime to impose a stricter rule on the citizens of Iran.
Students constitute an important group of the Iranian society and many young people in Iran are currently attending colleges and universities. However, students are quite often deprived of their right to education and/or prosecuted in response to oppositional political activity. Tavakoli studied at Amirkabir University of Technology in Teheran, Iran, where he was a prominent leader of the student organization Islamic Students' Association. The Student Peace Prize winner works mainly for student rights and democratization through speeches and publications. Tavakoli has been imprisoned for shorter periods of time earlier, and has demonstrated that he refuses to be scared into silence. Even whilst in prison he continues writing strongly worded letters to the government.
“With his own life and future at stake he is fighting for a peaceful reform and progress through participation and democracy. The prize is a clear signal to the regime that the world is paying attention,” says Jan Tore Sanner, deputy of the second largest political party in Norway (Høyre), regarding the announcement.
We are all Majid
The current regime in Iran is responsible for serious violations of the human rights. According to Amnesty International over 600 people were executed in 2011. Torture and imprisonment are also common methods practiced by the government. In the aftermath of the arrest, pictures of the Tavakoli wearing a hijab were released. The opposition claims that this was done to humiliate and disgrace him. Despite this, the pictures created a storm of attention surrounding Tavakoli and his case. Hundreds of Iranian men dressed themselves in hijabs and published pictures of themselves online, accompanied by the slogan ”We are all Majid”. The laureate of the Student Peace Prize has thus become a symbol and a representative for Iranian students and political activists alike.
-Their biggest fear is being forgotten
Amir Bayani works for the organization Article 19 and is familiar with Tavakoli and his work. He states:”anyone who has ever spoken to a prisoner of conscience in Iran can tell you that their biggest fear is being forgotten.”
The Student Peace Prize is awarded every other year, on behalf of all Norwegian students. This is the second time the prize laureate is a student in prison. Min Ko Naing from Burma won in 2001, and was released from prison earlier this year. In the wake of the annunciation of the winner on Friday there has been a lot of uncertainty concerning whether or not Tavakoli will be able to come to Norway in February to receive the prize in person. The Student Peace Prize laureate is honored with a ceremony during the student festival ISFiT (International Student Festival in Trondheim) and he will also get his own monument in Jomfrugata in Trondheim, as a part of the “Walk of Peace”. Whether Tavakoli will be able to witness this or not, remains to be seen.