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Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi
in danger of arrest




Farhang Jahanpour, TFF Associate


Lund, Sweden - August 16, 2006

On Thursday, 3rd August, the Iranian interior ministry announced that the Centre for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), co-founded by the 2003 Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, was an illegal organization. "Any activity by this centre is illegal, and violators of this decision will be prosecuted," an interior ministry statement said, claiming the CDHR "had not obtained the proper permit".

This is yet another serious violation of human rights by the present Iranian government. At a time, that the Iranian government is under so much international pressure, it is extremely unwise for it to alienate the Iranian population further and to isolate itself from liberal sentiments throughout the world.

After having written an article on the unfair treatment of women in Iran (Iran Awakening?), I received an email message from a supporter of the Iranian regime, arguing that at a time when Iran is under serious threat of attack and invasion it is untimely to raise issues about human rights and freedom in Iran. Indeed, the reverse is the case. It is under these dire circumstances that the Iranian government needs to realise that by violating human rights it provides more excuses to its opponents.

Furthermore, the issue of human rights has to be supported for its own intrinsic values and should not be confused with political controversies. Otherwise, no time would be a good time for standing up for freedom and human rights. Iran's case would be strengthened internationally by adhering to human rights principles, and it would be greatly weakened if it loses the much-needed support of the people of goodwill throughout the world. The only thing that can make Iran more immune to foreign threats would be the establishment of a stronger democracy at home and adherence to internationally recognised standards of human rights.

The persecution of an internationally respected Nobel Prize laureate and human rights lawyer is a clear example of the Iranian regime shooting itself in the foot. CDHR was co-founded four years ago by Ebadi in Teheran. CDHR applied for a permit when it was founded in 2002, but never received a reply from authorities, despite numerous follow-up attempts. According to the Iranian Constitution, a permit is not required for the setting up a human rights organization so long as it does not contradict any laws, but the Ministry of the Interior has imposed the practice of obtaining one.

On July 16, 2006, the Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced Abdulfatah Soltani, a co-founder of CDHR and a human rights lawyer who defended the students that had been attacked by a group of hired thugs in their dormitories at the University of Tehran, to five years in prison. The government accused him of disclosing charges brought against some of his clients to international diplomats. Soltani has appealed the court's ruling and is awaiting the appeals court's decision. Now, it seems that the authorities have decided to silence Shirin Ebadi. In an appeal for help issued on 8th August 2006, Shirin Ebadi wrote:


There is a very important matter I would like to discuss with you. I conduct my human rights activities through the Defender of Human Rights Center (DHRC). I am the president of this center and we have three important responsibilities:

a. We report the violations of human rights that take place in Iran.

b. We defend political prisoners pro bono -- about 70% of the political prisoners in Iran are clients of our center and we do not charge them for our services.

c. We support the families of these prisoners both financially -- if they require financial aid -- and spiritually.

This center is a member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and has been registered there. It has also been awarded a human rights prize by the Human Rights National Commission in France. This center is very well known and credible in Iran.

Two days ago the government of Iran announced that this center is illegal and provided we continue our activities, they shall arrest us. Of course me and the other members of the center do not intend to shut down the center and we shall continue our activities. However, there is a high possibility that that they will arrest us. The government's action in this regard is illegal.

Therefore, I kindly request that you broadcast this message by all means and gather spiritual support for our center. This center has been established and working for more than four years now. I believe this decision of the government has been triggered by my memoirs being published.

In any case, I am happy that my Memoirs has been published, for the truth must be told.

Many thanks,

Shirin Ebadi


"The attempt to silence Shirin Ebadi's Center is a huge setback for protecting human rights in Iran," said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "If Ebadi is threatened for defending human rights, then no one who works for human rights can feel safe from government prosecution."

For the sake of many oppressed people in Iran whose voices would not be heard were it not for organisations such DHRC, it is essential that this centre remains open. For this reason, the Iranian government should remain in no doubt that the illegal closure of this organization would further alienate world opinion and would provide ammunition to those who wish to do it harm.


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