TIME magazine on Thursday named Iranian human rights activist and VOA program host Masih Alinejad among the publication’s 12 Women of the Year for her work on behalf of women’s rights in her home country.
The women come from “across the globe and have made significant impact in their respective communities and fields,” TIME said in a statement.
Executive Editor Naina Bajekal and Senior Editor Lucy Feldman said the list “examines the most uplifting form of influence by spotlighting leaders who are using their voices to fight for a more equal world.”
Speaking to VOA Thursday, Alinejad said it was hard to know whether "to be happy or not."
"In normal circumstances, for me as a woman who comes from a very tiny village in north of Iran, to be selected for Women of the Year list of TIME magazine should bring joy and happiness. But these days, these situations in Iran, are not normal times for us," she said, describing the violence and repression the country's women endure.
TIME cited Alinejad, who has lived in exile since 2009, for her support of the ongoing anti-government protests in Iran.
The demonstrations began in response to the death in police custody last September of Mahsa Amini, 22, following her arrest for allegedly not adhering to the nation’s strict dress code for woman by not wearing her hijab correctly.
The protests are said to pose the greatest threat in years to the Iranian regime led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Alinejad told TIME, the “women of Iran are his biggest enemy.”
Other individuals named in the 2023 TIME magazine Women of the Year include Somali boxer and refugee advocate Ramla Ali; Verónica Cruz Sánchez from Mexico, who advocates for reproductive rights; and Olena Shevchenko, co-founder of the Ukrainian nonprofit Insight, which has been helping women and members of the LGBTQI community during the war in Ukraine.
Alinejad has reported on human rights abuses and corruption within the Iranian government and has led a social media movement against Iranian laws making hijabs mandatory for women.
That work made her the target of a plot to abduct her and forcibly return her to Iran and at least one attempt on her life, both linked directly to the Iranian government.
In 2021, the U.S. Justice Department charged four Iranian nationals, alleged to be Iranian intelligence agents, in connection with the kidnapping plot.
In August 2022, the FBI arrested a man, armed with an assault rifle, who had spent two days lurking outside Alinejad’s home and, at one point, attempted to enter it.
A congressional bill — the Masih Alinejad Harassment and Unlawful Targeting Act — includes measures to sanction people acting on behalf of Tehran to harass and surveil Iranians abroad, including journalists and human rights activists.
"This act puts into place the appropriate consequences for all that attempt to limit the ability of Iranian citizens to exercise free speech and demonstrates the United States' commitment to supporting free speech for the people of Iran," Maryland's Senator Ben Cardin said in a statement to VOA earlier this year. Cardin co-sponsored the bill with Pennsylvania's Senator Pat Toomey.
Alinejad has spoken to VOA previously about how she received death threats almost daily, she said, for simply giving a platform to women who only want to live a normal, 21st century life.
“I’m simply doing my job. Simply being a journalist is a crime in the eyes of the Islamic Republic,” she said.
Iran is one of the most censored countries in the world, media analysts say. Since the protests broke out, more than 90 journalists — many of them women — have been detained for their coverage, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Some were later released, but dozens remain in custody.
Speaking about being named one of the TIME Women of the Year, Alinejad told VOA, "I want to use this opportunity to echo the voice of Iranian brave women who are leading one of the most progressive revolutions. Who are bravely saying that 'We lost everything, but not hope.'"