Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has lost out on the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize, despite being a frontrunner.
Writing on X, formerly Twitter, the committee announced the prize has been awarded to Narges Mohammadi, an Iranian human-rights activist. She is serving a sentence of 10 years and 9 months, accused propaganda against the Iranian state and actions against national security.
The Nobel Prize announced on X: “The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the 2023 #NobelPeacePrize to Narges Mohammadi for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.”
Zelensky was a favorite to win the much-lauded international prize, with Nicer Odds placing his chances of winning at +220 in the U.S.
Speaking to CNN, Henrik Urdal, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, said many bookmakers cynically tipped Zelensky for the award simply because he name is well-known.
While betting houses may have placed the Ukrainian leader at the front of the pack, Nobel Prize experts were less convinced he would win. Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told CNN: “It would be like saying in 1941 that (then British Prime Minister) Winston Churchill should get the Nobel Peace Prize. What he was doing at the time was trying to win a war. That’s what Zelensky is trying to do now.”
“My view is, if and when he gets the chance to lead his country into peace, then he will probably get the award and be widely seen as a very worthy winner,” Smith added.
“Bookmakers here are trying to find candidates that people are willing to put money on—well, lose money on,” Urdal added. “I don’t consider that to reflect any real information about the likelihood of him getting the prize.”
Announcing Mohammadi as the winner, Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee who announced the prize in Oslo, said: “This prize is first and foremost a recognition of the very important work of a whole movement in Iran with its undisputed leader, Nargis Mohammadi.
“The impact of the prize is not for the Nobel committee to decide upon. We hope that it is an encouragement to continue the work in whichever form this movement finds to be fitting.”
Reiss-Andersen also said Mohammadi has been imprisoned 13 times and convicted five times. In total, she has been sentenced to 31 years in jail for her work as an activist.
“In September 2022, Mahsa Jina Amini was killed in Iranian morality police’s custody, triggering political demonstrations against Iran’s regime,” the Nobel Prize wrote on X.
“The motto adopted by the demonstrators – ‘Woman – Life – Freedom’ – suitably expresses the dedication and work of Narges Mohammadi.”
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, died unexpectedly in September 2022 while in custody of Iran’s Gasht-e Ershad, otherwise known as the morality police. Prior to her death she was arrested for wearing improper clothing after she allegedly broke a law that demands women cover their hair with a headscarf as well as their arms and legs. The slogan became synonymous with Amini after widespread women’s rights protests erupted across Iran.
In 2022, the prize was awarded to the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties, jointly with human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus and the Russian human rights organization Memorial. The choice was interpreted as a strong rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine.
Oleksandra Matviichuk, head of the Center for Civil Liberties, wrote on X following the announcement of Mohammadi’s 2023 win: “I welcome the Nobel Committee’s decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Narges Mohammadi for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran. We live in a very interconnected world. Right now, people in Iran are fighting for freedom. Our future depends on their success.”
Western nations believe Iran has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with the supply weapons and ammunition, although the matter remains disputed. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in May this year: “Iran also continues to provide Russia with one-way attack UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). Since August, Iran has provided Russia with more than 400 UAVs primarily of the Shahed variety.
“Russia has expended most of these UAVs, using them to target Ukrainian critical infrastructure inside Ukraine. By providing Russia with these UAVs, Iran has been directly enabling Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.”
Tehran and Moscow have both denied that Iran is supplying weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine.
Matviichuk continued: “It is more than obvious for Ukraine. I live in Kyiv, which is regularly bombarded by Russian missiles and Iranian drones. If authoritarian regimes cooperate, then people fighting for freedom have to support each other much more strongly.”
This year, the Nobel Prize committee reviewed 351 nominations — 259 for individuals and 92 for organizations. Those who can make nominations include former Nobel Peace Prize winners, members of the committee, heads of states, members of parliaments, as well as esteemed professors of political science, history and international law.
Following the October announcement, prizes are handed out in ceremony in December. It is unknown is Mohammadi will be able to receive her award in person.
Newsweek has contacted the Nobel Prize Committee for comment.
Update 10/06.23 8:15 a.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information for context.