On May 17, the International Republican Institute (IRI) honored the women of Iran at the 2023 John S. McCain Freedom Award Celebration at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC. The event kicked off with opening remarks by IRI President Dr. Daniel Twining and IRI Chairman U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan. Twining began by thanking the Board, IRI partners and supporters, and IRI staff and friends for making the night possible. He noted IRI’s work in over 100 countries around the globe, striving to achieve a freer future for all.  

“For the first time in a long time, autocrats are on the defensive,” said Twining. “A democratic dawn will soon be peering over a horizon of hope. And a future of freedom will be within reach for all people.”

Senator Sullivan reminded the audience of IRI’s growth and success in the 40 years since its founding. He also emphasized the invaluable role that women play in the fight for democracy and how the women of Iran, while pushing back against the Islamic Republic, have demonstrated unwavering resolve. “’Women, Life, Freedom.’ We will not forget these words or the women who risk their lives chanting them,” Sullivan said. “We thank them for their resolve.”  

Senator Ernst took the stage next to introduce the honorees, offering remarks on the resilience of the women of Iran and their courage despite ongoing arrests and threats to their lives from the brutal regime in Tehran. She noted how Americans can stand united with Iranian protestors and work toward a better future in Iran. “You are heroes tonight and your suffering is not in vain,” Ernst said to the women. “History will prove you morally right in your cause, and … the women in Iran will see it to fruition.” 

Following their introduction, the three honorees joined Senator Ernst on stage to receive the John S. McCain Freedom Award. The women included Masih Alinejad, Nazanin Boniadi, and Mehrangiz Kar. Alinejad is a prominent Iranian-American journalist, author, and activist, advocating for women’s rights and empowerment. Boniadi is an Iranian-born actress and renowned activist, who campaigns for the rights of disenfranchised populations across the world. Kar is an Iranian attorney, writer, and activist, who focuses on the promotion of democracy, rule of law, human rights, and women’s rights.

A democratic dawn will soon be peering over a horizon of hope. And a future of freedom will be within reach for all people.

Dr. Daniel Twining, IRI PResident

Boniadi first offered remarks about the ongoing “Women, Life, Freedom” movement noting, “Now you have union workers, students, ethnic and religious minorities, and all Iranians standing up for a free, secular Iran.” Kar followed by offering her own experience as a female lawyer in Iran after the Revolution and how Iranians are ready for change. “Something has now happened … It is a result of 44 years of struggle with … a very extreme interpretation of Islam.” Finally, Alinejad spoke about how the United States can help protestors and the movement. “Iranians are standing up to the theocracy to demand basic rights, but they are not resisting for that reason alone,” she said. “They are fighting to protect the world from the danger posed by the Islamic Republic.” 

To conclude the program, IRI Vice President for External Affairs Antonia Ferrier spoke on women on the frontlines of freedom.” Across the world, women are leading the fight for democracy,” said Ferrier. She then welcomed to the stage former Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, and Congresswoman Lisa McClain sat down to discuss women’s role in the fight for democracy and how the United States can support the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement in Iran. Tenney and McClain both acknowledged how they are inspired by the strength of Iranian women, who are standing up for their rights when they know they could face death. McClain reflected on the unique role women play in the fight for freedom, “The strength of women is remarkable. It is second to none.”

About the Freedom Award: 

Since 1995, the International Republican Institute’s Freedom Award Celebration has honored individuals whose commitment to the advancement of democracy, freedom, and human liberty has created opportunity for millions of people around the world. As IRI’s highest honor, the Freedom Award exemplifies the goals and accomplishments of strengthening democracy for a safer, more secure world. 

About Masih Alinejad: 

Masih Alinejad is an Iranian American journalist, author, and activist. Born and raised in Iran, Alinejad was a parliamentary journalist in Tehran, where she exposed corruption among the lawmakers and challenged establishment political figures including former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Forced to leave the country in 2009, Alinejad spent five years documenting human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic. She wrote and produced a 57-part radio series on the victims of the crackdown on protesters against the rigged 2009 elections and followed it up with a 2-hour TV documentary on the families of the victims. In 2014, Alinejad founded the My Stealthy Freedom campaign against compulsory hijab, which has become the largest civil disobedience campaign for women’s rights in the history of Islamic Republic. She published a memoir in 2018, The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran, which includes stories of her life growing up in an Iranian village to her campaigns championing women’s rights. Alinejad is the writer and host of the satirical news show “Tablet” on Voice of America, and has authored articles for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and the Independent. 

About Nazanin Boniadi: 

Nazanin Boniadi is an Iranian-born, Screen Actors Guild and AACTA Award-nominated actress and activist. Her TV and film credits include “The Lord of the Rings” series, “How I Met Your Mother,” “Homeland,” “Counterpart,” and “Hotel Mumbai.” Boniadi has partnered with Amnesty International since 2008 to campaign for the rights of disenfranchised populations across the world, with a focus on the unjust conviction and treatment of Iranian youth, women, and prisoners of conscience. Her advocacy work has taken her to the German Bundestag, the UK Parliament, the U.S. Capitol, and the UN headquarters. In 2014, the Program for Torture Victims awarded Boniadi their City of Second Chances Award, and in 2018, she was selected by People Magazine as one of their “25 Women Changing the World.” She is also a recipient of the 2020 Freedom House Raising Awareness Award, and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and has been published in global media outlets including The Washington Post, BBC, CNN, Defense One, and The New York Times. 

About Mehrangiz Kar: 

Mehrangiz Kar is an attorney, writer, and activist, and conducts research on the promotion of democracy, rules of law, human rights, and women’s rights within the framework of Islamic law in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Kar earned her degree in law from the University of Tehran and is a member of the bar association in Tehran. She has been a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies. She received the 2002 Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize, awarded jointly by the Human Rights Institute of the Bar of Bordeaux and the European Lawyers Union; the 2000 PEN/NOVIB Award of the International PEN Club in the Netherlands; the 2000 Donna Dell’anno Award of the Conseil De Lavallee Consiglio Regionale Della Valle d’Aosta in Italy; and the Women’s Award for Justice and Advocacy from the New York City Bar Association. She is the author of Crossing the Red Line: The Struggle for Human Rights in Iran

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