Bahai News -- Agence France-Presse - Iranian rights activist wins Nobel Peace Prize Saturday, October 11, 2003

Iranian rights activist wins Nobel Peace Prize

OSLO—The Iranian human-rights activist and feminist lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo Friday, becoming the first Muslim woman to win the honor in the prize’s 102-year history.

Ebadi, 56, was given the prize “for her efforts for democracy and human rights,” particularly for women and children in her country, which has been under Islamic rule since its 1979 revolution, the Nobel Committee said.

In a reaction broadcast on Norwegian radio, Ebadi said her win was “very good for me, very good for human rights and very good for democracy in Iran.”

She added that she was “very glad and proud” and hoped the fame the prize brought would help her work in her country.

The profile released by the Nobel Committee following Friday’s announcement said, Ebadi represents “Reformed Islam, and argues for a new interpretation of Islamic law which is in harmony with vital human rights such as democracy, equality before the law, religious freedom and freedom of speech.

“As for religious freedom, it should be noted that Ebadi also includes the rights of members of the Bahai community, which has had problems in Iran ever since its foundation.

“With Islam as her starting point, Ebadi campaigns for peaceful solutions to social problems and promotes new thinking on Islamic terms. She has displayed great personal courage as a lawyer defending individuals and groups who have fallen victim to a powerful political and legal system that is legitimized through an inhumane interpretation of Islam.

“Ebadi has shown her willingness and ability to cooperate with representatives of secular as well as religious views.”

In 1974 Ebadi became Iran’s first woman judge, but lost that post in the revolution five years later when Islamic clerics took over and decreed that women could not preside over courts.

Rather than retire to a life of obscurity, Ebadi continued to lecture in law at Tehran University and emerged as a vocal activist and lawyer dedicated to women’s and children’s rights.

She was a major driving force between the reform of Iran’s family laws, notably on divorce and inheritance—and also against a system where the “blood money”—compensation for an injury—for women is half that for a man.

Ebadi also emerged as something of an unofficial spokesperson for Iranian women, who demonstrated their political clout in 1997 by rallying around the mild-mannered reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami and electing him president.

But it was involvement in investigating one of Islamic Iran’s most controversial cases—the 1999 serial murders of writers, intellectuals and dissidents—that put her on a collision course with Iran’s hardliners.

She served as lawyer for Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar, a couple who were among several dissidents who died in a spate of grisly murders that were eventually pinned on “rogue” agents from Iran’s intelligence ministry.

In June 2000, she was arrested along with another reformist lawyer, for allegedly distributing a taped confession of a hard-line vigilante militia member involved in antireformist violence.

“My problem is not with Islam, it’s with the culture of patriarchy,” Ebadi told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in June. “Practices such as stoning have no foundation in the Koran.”

Ebadi spent time in jail for attending a 2001 conference on Iranian form in Berlin. She has maintained a high profile in her feminist struggle, also by writing many books and articles.

“Any person who pursues human rights in Iran must live with fear from birth to death, but I have learned to overcome my fear,” she told the Christian Science Monitor newspaper in 1999.

Her work has won her accolades from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and in 2001 she was awarded the human rights Rafto prize. She is married and has two daughters, aged 20 and 23.

Ebadi was selected from a field of 165 candidates for the prize, among them Pope John Paul II and former Czech president Vaclav Havel.
--Agence France-Presse

©Copyright 2003, Agence France-Presse (France)

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