Shirin Ebadi

A defender of human rights from Iran who was no longer scared of her fear

Szirin Ebadi

Szirin Ebadi

‘Everyone who fights for human rights in Iran must anticipate life in fear, from birth to death. I have learnt how to overcome that fear’, is the motto of Shirin Ebadi who was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her contribution to enhancing democracy in Iran and struggle for human rights, particularly of women and children.

Ebadi, a lawyer, professor at the University of Tehran, as well as a writer, was the 11-th woman, yet the first Muslim one to have become the Winner of the prestigious Nobel Prize. She herself, after having heard the Nobel Committee’s decision, emphasized that she followed Islam, which went to say that ‘one could be a Muslim, yet support democracy at the same time’.

She won the appreciation of the Norwegian Nobel Committee for supporting the dialogue as the best way of attitude transforming and conflict solving. Ebadi represents humane Islam, and is on extremely good terms with both people of definitely lay as well as religious views. In her opinion, there is no contradiction between Islam and basic human rights. She has frequently declared the need to carry out a cross-cultural dialogue, as well as the inter-faith one, based on the values that can be shared by all.

She is known for her efforts to find a ‘new interpretation’ of the Muslim law, so that it would be consistent with the basic human rights, such as democracy, equal rights, freedom of religion and of speech. Meanwhile, that year’s Nobel Peace Prize going to an Iranian woman met throughout the world with different reactions: from appreciation to disappointment, and even outrage or indignation of those who were sure that actually John Paul II deserved it.

Shirin Ebadi knows perfectly well the price of freedom and how much the rights she has been fighting for are worth. Born in Hamadam to a family of intellectuals, she graduated from Tehran University in Law. With her PhD in 1971, four years later she became the first woman-judge in Iran, in 1975-79 serving as the president of a city court in Tehran. However, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution when women were banned from following this career, she and some of her fellow women-judges had to resign. Forced to stay home and taking care of her two daughters, she wrote several books and published a number of articles in Iranian periodicals. Finally, in 1992 she was granted the law office permit and became a private lawyer dealing with many political cases.
Ebadi personally knows many dissidents. As a lawyer, she represented before Iranian courts families of intellectuals, writers, and journalists murdered by the theocratic regime in the cleansing of the opposition in 1999-2000. She participated in the activities meant to pressurize the regime to investigate into the attack on the students at her Alma Mater in 1999. A big group of young Iranians was then killed. Ebadi herself was in custody on a number of occasions.

After one of the trials in which she defended the persecuted, she was banned from exercising her profession for five years. That is how she herself became the victim of persecution. In the eyes of Iranian ultraconservatives and religious radicals, Ebadi is an enemy of the Ayatollah regime, supported by the West, who is trying to repudiate Islamic values.

The Iranian authorities have been persecuting her in many ways. In late November 2009 Ebadi’s bank account was frozen, the move justified with the claim that the account deposit was used to support political prisoners and their families. At the same time, her Nobel Peace Prize medal was confiscated, an unprecedented development in the history of the honour. Since then Ebadi has been living in Great Britain.

Shirin Ebadi has on many occasions criticized the Iranian regime for violating human rights and practicing the capital punishment. According to Amnesty International, Iran is the second country worldwide after China in the number of executions.

Ebadi is certain that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not survive unless it transforms and listens to the people who claim reform. In an interview for the French ‘Le Monde’ evening paper she says that the time of the revolution is over, that Iranians are bitterly disappointed with it, and need reforms of political, economic, and social rights. Actually, the whole state is in need of a thorough reform and the best way to introduce it is to amend the electoral law allowing citizens to elect their representatives in a free and general election. She also urges to release political prisoners whose number in Iran is estimated at ca. 800.

Having been brought up, which she herself emphasizes, in a loving family with respect for one another, she has become known as a determined defender of women’s and children’s rights in Iran. She founded and headed (until 2000) the Support of Children’s Rights in Iran Association. Additionally, together with four other lawyers she founded an NGO called the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights (2001) based in Tehran which, however, was closed down by the authorities 7 years later.

Moreover, Ebadi has been active with regard to refugees’ rights. She has written numerous studies, articles, and books dedicated to human rights, e.g. The Rights of a Child. A Study of Legal Aspect of Children’s Rights in Iran, Women’s Rights, History and Documentation of Human Rights in Iran. She has also been travelling worldwide, giving lectures, and participating in conferences and seminars.

In 1996, Ebadi served as an official observer of the Human Rights Watch. In 2001, Norway honoured her with the Rafto Prize awarded to human rights defenders. In 2004, she was ranked on the Forbes list of ‘100 most powerful women in the world’. She is also included in the published list of the ‘100 most influential women of all time’.

Ebadi is a woman who does not fear to speak her mind. In the interview given to PAP in late 2011, she judged that EU had made a mistake in the past supporting such countries as Libya or Tunisia and their dictators by accepting their ‘dirty money’. She earnestly urged the European countries not to maintain ‘disgraceful commercial relations’ with Iran.

Not fearing the reaction of Western governments, she outspokenly criticized them for having supported the regime of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain and therefore for indirectly sharing the responsibility for his crimes.

When receiving the Nobel Prize in Oslo, she did not hesitate to criticize the United States which in her opinion had taken advantage of the September 11 attacks and the war against terrorism as a cover up for its violation of human rights in Iraq or Afghanistan.

On many occasions Ebadi has pointed that Washington violates the Geneva Conventions and Declarations of Human Rights by keeping prisoners in its Guantanamo base in Cuba. She claims that punishing terrorists will not free the world of terrorism; contrariwise, it can additionally exacerbate the problem. In her view, the first step to be taken is to eradicate reasons for terrorism which is ‘a negative reaction to injustice and discrimination’.

Moreover, Ebadi has accused the USA of being two-faced in its approach to the Arab world. She thinks that America pressurizes Iran for its nuclear programme and lack of democracy, while ignoring the very same problems in e.g. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. ‘There is no democracy in either of the countries, while Pakistan even has nuclear weapons’, said the Nobel Laureate in 2006.

In her view, the interest of the world in Iran’s controversial nuclear programme diverted the attention from the question of human rights in the country. When giving an interview to the French business paper ‘Les Echos’, she said that under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ‘there was no democracy’ in her country.

Karolina Cygonek (PAP)

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