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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Protest Threats against Iranian Nobel Prize Winner

Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has devoted much of her legal career to defending the rights of women and children in Iran. She was the first woman to preside over a legislative court in Iran, until she was forced to relinquish her post after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ebadi is accustomed to criticism by media and government, and to heavy-handed attempts to silence and intimidate her. The Iranian regime has banned the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, which she heads. One of her associates, Abdolfattah Soltani, was arrested in July 2005 and imprisoned for nearly eight months. Ebadi has repeatedly been summoned to Court.
Attacks against Ebadi in government-sponsored media have increased over the past two to three months:
On August 2, 2008, Kayhan published a commentary mocking Ebadi's criticism of a rise in executions in Iran.
On August 3, 2008, Kayhan reported on Ebadi's receipt of an appreciation letter from a Baha'i Center headquartered in Israel, thanking her for her work in defense of Baha'is in Iran.
On August 4, 2008, Kayhan published another commentary deriding Ebadi's criticism of the "national security" charges being brought against civil society activists.
Starting on August 6, 2008, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) published a series of articles slandering Ebadi, and indicating that her daughter had embraced the Baha'i faith.
An August 11, 2008 article in IRNA cited a speech delivered by Payam Fazlinejad (affiliated with Kayhan) in which he not only referred to Ebadi's daughter's conversion, but also attacked the entire women's movement for promoting a pro-West and Zionist agenda.
The allegations regarding conversion are particularly serious due to the Islamic Republic's refusal to recognize the Baha'i faith as a religion. In fact, it considers the adherents' belief in Bahaullah as God's last prophet as heretical to Islamic belief. Further, conversion from Islam to another religion is considered apostasy. By publicizing and disseminating rumors that Ebadi or her family members have left Islam to join the Baha'i faith, a highly sensitive issue, the regime is in effect fomenting controversy about Ebadi and exposing her to the possibility of serious harm, and possibly death.
Though attacks on Ebadi's character are nothing new, the recent escalation of these rumors, being disseminated in government-controlled media (the current managing editor of Kayhan, Hossein Shariatmadari, is directly appointed by the leader of Iran), are troubling because they are seen as government-endorsed. Some see similarities between these tactics and those used in the 1990s that were followed by the murder of prominent Iranian intellectuals. Among them were Dariush Forouhar (leader of the banned Nation of Iran party) and his wife Parvaneh, found stabbed to death in their home in 1998. Ebadi has taken on their case.
The government's actions may provoke attacks on Ebadi or create a climate that would force her to either give up her work or leave Iran. In the weeks before this round of criticism began, Ebadi by herself and through her group, the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, has spoken out on a number of issues in Iran, namely the spike in executions, and a Family Protection Law that was before the Parliament, with controversial provisions opposed by women's groups. In addition, Ebadi has been representing a number of women who have been arrested in connection with the One Million Signatures Campaign.


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