Press release

Freedom House Presents Its 2023 Freedom Award to Vladimir Kara-Murza and the Women of Iran

The Honorable Michael A. McCarthy, US ambassador to Liberia, will also receive the 2023 Mark Palmer Prize. 

WASHINGTON—Tonight, Freedom House will present its 2023 Freedom Award to Vladimir Kara-Murza and the women of Iran in recognition of their unwavering commitment and activism to advance democracy and freedom.  

Kara-Murza, a Russian democratic opposition leader, Washington Post contributor, and historian, has waged a relentless fight against corruption and repression in Putin’s Russia. Last month, Kara-Murza was handed a 25-year prison sentence for criticizing the invasion of Ukraine and calling for sanctions. The women of Iran have demonstrated remarkable courage and resilience in the face of ongoing persecution and discrimination by their country’s regime. The honorees will receive the awards at Freedom House’s 2023 Annual Awards Dinner in Washington, DC. 

“The struggle for freedom and human rights requires the unwavering commitment of individuals and communities around the world,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Vladimir Kara-Murza has exemplified the kind of courage that turns the tide against tyranny and oppression. We call for his immediate release from his unjust and unfounded imprisonment. 

“From all walks of life, the women of Iran are putting themselves on the line with unbelievable bravery,” Abramowitz said. “The international community must stand with the women of Iran as they continue their fight for freedom in the face of horrific repression and human rights abuses. Freedom House is proud to honor Vladimir Kara-Murza and the women of Iran with this year’s Freedom Award.” 


On September 14, 2022, Mahsa Amini was visiting Tehran from her home in Kurdistan Province when she was arrested by Iran’s Guidance Patrol, colloquially known as the morality police, for wearing her headscarf “improperly.” Amini fell into a coma while in custody. On September 16, Amini’s family confirmed that she died in Tehran’s Kasra Hospital and alleged that the authorities had beaten her. Hours after her death was confirmed, the women of Iran quickly mobilized in response, with rallies ultimately being held in over 100 cities nationwide. Protesters clashed with security forces, expressing their anger over violence against women and the broader suppression of basic freedoms. The regime responded with a harsh crackdown, targeting protesters in the country’s Kurdish region in particular. Over 19,700 people have been arrested and 530 have been killed since the protests began. Iran has been rated Not Free by the Freedom in the World report since 1979, scoring 12/100 in Freedom in the World 2023.  

Vladimir Kara-Murza has dedicated his life to fighting corruption and repression in Russia and promoting human rights and democracy for his homeland. A fierce and principled critic of President Vladimir Putin and close friend of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated in 2015, Kara-Murza has been poisoned twice for his tireless advocacy. In April 2022, after Kara-Murza criticized the Putin regime’s invasion of Ukraine in an interview with CNN, he was arrested in Moscow, initially for “behaving inappropriately in the sight of police officers.” His arrest was extended after charges of “discrediting” the military were introduced, with new charges of treason applied in October. Kara-Murza’s health has declined drastically since he was taken into custody, exacerbating nerve damage caused by the poisonings. On April 17, 2023, he was unjustly sentenced to 25 years in prison. 

For over 80 years, Freedom House has worked to expand and defend freedom globally. To help create a world where all are free, Freedom House identifies threats to freedom, spurs collective action to counter those threats, and supports activists working to expand and defend freedom. Since 1943, Freedom House has recognized outstanding leaders who have championed freedom and democracy.  

Past recipients  of the Freedom Award include His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama; Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Václav Havel, the playwright, dissident, and first postcommunist president of Czechoslovakia; Saudi activist Hala al-Dosari; journalist Edward R. Murrow; Uyghur activist Ilham Tohti; and Pablo Casals, the musician and opponent of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.  

The organization will also present its Mark Palmer Prize to US ambassador Michael A. McCarthy. The Mark Palmer Prize has been awarded to diplomats and international civil servants from around the world, including Canada, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Mongolia, Peru, Sweden, the United States, and Uruguay. Click here to read more about this year’s recipient of the Palmer Prize

Freedom House is grateful to our underwriting sponsor, the Judy and Peter Blum Kovler Foundation. We are also thankful for our Freedom Supporters—Dionisio Gutiérrez, the Hon. Jane Harman, Thomas and Susana Kahn, Miles Taylor and Hannah Hummelberg, TransUnion, and Karen and Norman Willox—for their support.  

Freedom House is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to create a world where all are free. We inform the world about threats to freedom, mobilize global action, and support democracy’s defenders.