Iran’s most prominent human rights activist, Narges Mohammadi, was supposed to be handed the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo on Sunday.
But, locked inside Evin Prison in Iran, Ms. Mohammadi, 51, was unable to attend and her 17-year-old twin children, Kiana Rahmani and Ali Rahmani, instead accepted medal and diploma on her behalf and read out a speech she had prepared.
“I write this message from behind the tall and cold walls of a prison,” she said in her speech, making a plea for a “globalization of peace and human rights” in a world where authoritarian governments continue to commit abuses against their people.
Ms. Mohammadi’s children have not seen their mother since 2015, when they fled Iran for France, and they have been unable to speak with her for two years, after Iranian prison authorities banned her from phone contact with them, according to PEN America, a free-speech group.
In the speech, which was greeted with a standing ovation, Ms. Mohammadi described the undemocratic ways of the Islamic republic, its oppressive rules mandating the hijab for women, and the women-led uprisings that shook the country last year.
She warned that human rights violations perpetrated by authoritarian governments had broader consequences, including migration, unrest and growing terrorist threats.
“In the globalized world, either human rights will become respected internationally, or human rights violations will continue to spread across state borders,” she said.
A portrait of Ms. Mohammadi hung on the wall of Oslo’s city hall during the ceremony, which included performances by Iranian musicians.
In her speech, the Iranian human rights activist also talked of the “soul-crushing suffering resulting from the lack of freedom, equality, and democracy” in her country, perpetrated by a “despotic religious government.”
“Tyranny turns life into death, blessing into lament, and comfort into torment,” she said.
Iran’s authoritarian government has long tried to silence and punish Ms. Mohammadi for her activism and she is currently serving a long prison sentence for “spreading anti-state propaganda.”
On Saturday, Ms. Mohammadi’s family announced that she had begun a hunger strike to protest the violation of human rights in Iran and the treatment of the Baha’i religious minority there. She has previously suffered severe health problems in prison, including a heart attack.
Last month, she held another hunger strike to protest the refusal of prison authorities to take her to a hospital for treatment for two blocked coronary arteries when she refused to to wear the mandatory hijab to go there.
Despite her detention, she has remained a powerful voice promoting human rights in Iran and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and promoting freedom and human rights.
As major protests rocked Iran last year after a young woman, Mahsa Amini, died in the custody of the country’s morality police after being accused of failing to wear a hijab properly, Ms. Mohammadi organized demonstrations inside the prison.
Omid Memarian, an Iranian journalist and human rights activist who was in Oslo on Sunday, said that Ms. Mohammadi’s struggle highlighted on the juxtaposition between “a government’s cruelty” and “the unwavering resilience of activists.”
Her absence from Oslo, he added in a message, “casts a glaring spotlight on the Iranian government’s disregard for human rights.”
PEN America had previously written an open letter to ask the Iranian government to free Ms. Mohammadi in time for her to attend the Nobel ceremony.
“The government of Iran prefers the humiliating spectacle of the world honoring her in absentia to the risk of allowing her to speak her mind,” Suzanne Nossel, the head of PEN America, who attended the Nobel ceremony on Sunday, said in a statement.
Ms. Rahmani said that being able to deliver the speech at the ceremony gave her a feeling of connection with her mother.
“Her own words in my hands,” she said in an interview with the Nobel Peace Center on Saturday. “It is really nice to finally have something of my mother.”
In a letter written after receiving the prize, which her daughter also read out at the time, Ms. Mohammadi talked about her life and activism. As a 9-year-old, she said, she heard her mother mourn after her niece was executed; at 19, she was jailed for wearing an orange coat.
“From our very childhood we are exposed to the domination, blatant and hidden violence, tyranny, and discrimination,” she said.
The Nobel announcement in October was broadcast by Iranian state television in the women’s ward at Evin Prison, she said, and her cellmates chanted one of the slogans of the nationwide protests that erupted last year: “Woman, Life, Freedom!”
She said the award marked a turning point in empowering protest and social movements worldwide as forces for change.
“Victory is not easy,” Ms. Mohammadi said. “But it is certain.”
Leily Nikounazar contributed reporting from Brussels.