(CNN)She may just have won the Geneva Summit 2020 International Women's Prize but Iranian activist Shaparak Shajarizadeh says she can't feel happiness anymore -- not while her friends and other women's rights activists remain imprisoned in Iran.
Iranian women's rights activist: 'Don't wait for anyone to hand you your rights'
"I'm not a happy person and I feel guilty all the time," she told CNN in a candid interview last week, adding that she fears women's rights activists in Iran have "no hope" and that international condemnation of their treatment by authorities has had little impact.
Shajarizadeh, 44, fled Iran almost two years ago, after being arrested three times and imprisoned twice for defying Iran's compulsory hijab law. She was involved in the #White Wednesdays movement—a campaign encouraging men and women to post images on social media of themselves either wearing white or no headscarf to protest being forced to wear the hijab.
She tells CNN she was officially charged with encouraging prostitution, propaganda against the government and acting against national security, charges she was later convicted on.
Iran's mandatory hijab law has only been in effect since the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979 when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power. The law was first enforced by the country's 'morality' police and is still enforced by authorities even today. The hijab has consequently become a symbol of oppression for many Iranian women who have been protesting for more freedom and independence in the strictly conservative Islamic society.
Shajarizadeh is one of those women. She was first arrested in February 2018 for protesting without a hijab.
"I was arrested for the crime of waving a white flag of peace in the street, only to be punished by the regime and detained in Gharchak prison," she said in Geneva during her award acceptance speech. "I was beaten up and brutalized during the investigation, and thrown into solitary confinement. It was the most frightening experience in my life."
Recalling her time in prison, she described having panic attacks, and says she was asked to strip naked numerous times and beaten. "The women I saw in there, their bodies were black, pitch black" with bruises, she adds.
Reached for comment about Shajarizadeh's claims, an Iranian government spokesman told CNN that "the content of all judicial and revolutionary dossiers are kept confidential."
Shajarizadeh started a hunger strike after her first day at Gharchak prison and credits it for giving her strength. For an entire week, she says she ate nothing. She told CNN that though excruciating, it gave her mental strength because she felt that she was taking action and h