The European Parliament on Wednesday presented the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience to a pair of Iranian opposition figures who are under detention in their homeland and could not attend the ceremony.

Accepting the award on behalf of attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh and internationally acclaimed filmmaker Jafar Panahi was Iranian women's rights activist Shirin Ebadi, recipient of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize.

"These two empty seats symbolize the repression of the Iranian regime with its citizens," Ebadi said, referring to the two spots that would have been occupied by the honorees.

Ebadi read a thank-you letter written by Sotoudeh, who dedicated the prize "to all the political prisoners of Iran and the world."

"The struggle for human rights will not end, even though they take us to jail. The torch of freedom will never go out," read Ebadi from the letter written by the activist.

Filmmaker Costa Gavras read the thank-you text sent by Panahi, who dedicated the prize to "all the anonymous fighters for freedom, to all those who are fighting for peace in the whole world."

The European Parliament "stands on the side of those repressed by this (Iranian) regime," parliament President Martin Schulz said, calling on Tehran to immediately and unconditionally release the two dissidents.

Sotoudeh is currently behind bars in Iran, while Panahi is under house arrest. EFE