“We will not return to darkness!”

The M100 Media Award honours the Iranian “Women, Life, Freedom” movement | Shima Babaei accepted the award on behalf of the movement in Potsdam
Potsdam, 15 September 2023. Yesterday evening, the 19th M100 Sanssouci Colloquium ended with the presentation of the M100 Media Award at the Orangerieschloss Sanssouci in Potsdam. The high-profile European award was given to the Iranian “Women, Life, Freedom” movement, which started one year ago, on 16 September 2022, with the violent death of 22-year-old student Jina Mahsa Amini in police custody. The award honours the courageous women and girls, but also men, who protest against oppression and for freedom and human rights in their home countries. Iranian women’s rights activist Shima Babaei, who has been living in exile in Belgium since 2020, accepted the award on behalf of the movement.

“Today, with the M100 Media Award, we honour the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement in Iran, which, despite threats of violence and draconian punishments, stands up for women’s rights as they are taken for granted in the civilized world,” said Potsdam’s Lord Mayor Mike Schubert in his welcome of the approximately 160 invited international guests: “Let us take today’s award ceremony as an inspiration to continue to work together to promote equality, human rights and democracy everywhere in the world. The Iranian women’s movement, just like our own Potsdam history, shows us that the will to overcome obstacles is too strong for petrified and encrusted regimes, that it is possible to shape a better future for all.”

“We honour all the heroes and heroines of the ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ movement with the M100 Award because we wholeheartedly support their fight for fundamental rights of freedom,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in her laudation. She emphasized in particular: “We can already say with certainty today, that something historic is happening in Iran. For the first time, women in Iran are both the spark and the driving force of a revolution. And I bow to the courage of Iranian women who are leading the protest marches even before men. I am deeply impressed by the chutzpah of the young girls, the teenagers who burn their obligatory veils in the streets. Who put their young lives on the line because they want freedom and a better future. This is not just a turning point for hundreds of thousands of women and girls in the country. It is a deeper upheaval in the country. Because women are taking the lead. They are fighting for their personal freedom and at the same time for a more open and free Iran.”

Shima Babaei has been fighting against the oppression of women and the wearing of the hijab in her country since 2017. She was twice imprisoned in the notorious Evin prison, where she spent long periods in solitary confinement. In 2018, she and her husband fled Iran. With the resurgence of the Iranian protests a year ago and the founding of the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement, she became one of the central voices in the Iranian diaspora: “Today I am here to tell you that our revolution, the women’s revolution for life and freedom, has not stopped. Many women are sending us the message, by removing the compulsory hijab and engaging in civil disobedience using their own hair, a message to the effect that we will not return to darkness. It is worth knowing that this revolution will continue until the day of victory and the fall of the anti-women, anti-life and anti-freedom dictatorship of the Islamic Republic. (…) I am here today to tell the Islamic Republic that my fight is not over. You are now facing a woman who defies you and who will not let your torture and crimes stop her. (…) I urge you to withdraw all forms of financial and moral support, as well as all commercial and political cooperation, with the regime in Tehran. Put the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the list of terrorist organisations and understand that the future Iranian government, after overthrowing the mullahs, will be the best friend of Germany and other democratic and free countries.”

Shima Babaei then asked her friend Mersedeh Shahinkar, who arrived in Germany with her eleven-year-old daughter Roza two weeks ago, to come on stage. In moving words, the 39-year-old banker and fitness trainer also told a harrowing part of her own story: “The Islamic Republic retorted to my protest with bullets. I was on the streets almost every night to take part in the demonstrations. One night, as always, without a weapon in my hands, I was chanting slogans with my mother and friends when one of the forces of oppression casually and without hesitation shot me in the right eye. When I was rushed to hospital, my face bloodied, I took a photo of myself and shared it, showing the victory sign with my hand and smiling. After that, I continued to take part in the demonstrations, even with just one eye”.

Finally, German-Iranian actress and musician Jasmin Tabatabai and journalist and human rights activist Düzen Tekkal made a strong political statement on stage to not only leave it at expressions of support, but to actively support the revolution in Iran. This is not only a revolution that affects Iran, but the whole world.

The M100 Media Award has been presented at the M100 Sanssouci Colloquium international media conference since 2005. Previous laureates include Lord Norman Foster, Bernard Kouchner, Bob Geldof, Ingrid Betancourt, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Kurt Westergaard, Vitali Klitschko, Charlie Hebdo, Roberto Saviano, Natalia Sindeeva, Nicola Sturgeon, Alexei Navalny and the Ukrainian people.

In the morning, under the title “Between Ambition and Disarray – The Future of Democracy”, around 70 international editors-in-chief, academics and representatives from politics and civil society discussed the strengths and weaknesses of democracy, reasons for global democracy fatigue and the future of journalistic media in times of rapid technological progress and disinformation.
The Indian essayist and writer Pankaj Mishra, who became internationally known in 1995 with his non-fiction book “Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in Small Town India”, reflected in his opening speech the development of the globalization with all its complex and entangled alliances and its impact on the global balance of power and on democratic values: “The ideological belief that the rising tide of globalization would lift all boats underpinned not only the speeches of political leaders but also the news reports and editorials of the New York Times, the Economist and the Financial Times and other Western periodicals. Even Russia and China briefly seemed, in the 1990s, to be going along with what Western leaders called a ‘rules-based international order. ’History itself seemed to have ended. I think we can safely say each one of these assumptions that underpinned western policymaking and journalism for nearly three decades lie shattered. We live in a world where the future of democracy is not assured even in Europe, let alone India. Capitalism has generated far too much inequality, now produces a vicious backlash. Demagogues and despotic leaders both inside and outside Europe are in the ascendant.”
He concludes: “Instead of yet again expediently legitimating authoritarian rulers, Western leaders and opinion-makers should maintain their commitment to democracy—and not just rhetorically. Certainly, those who claim to be fighting for freedom and dignity in Ukraine should not be willing to countenance their destruction in India, Turkey and other likely partners of the West. The greater common and universal good of democracy is worth striving for even more in our complex multi-polar world.”