Iran: Congratulations to Shirin Ebadi

Cat's Eye
Women all around the world have warmly welcomed the award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer.
Ebadi was the first woman judge in Iran appointed in 1974 and removed from office when the Islamic Revolution took place in 1979.
Rather than fleeing the country, Ebadi stayed back to fight on a range of human rights issues. “I have learned to overcome my fear,” she said, and certainly her record is one of fearless commitment, taking on human rights cases that other lawyers refused. She has defended the rights of political dissenters, writers, and intellectuals who have been arrested, tortured and killed in Iran, which has an unfortunate history of brutal human rights violations. Ebadi also championed the students of the Teheran University who were attacked by state forces in 1999. As the Nobel Committee announced:

“As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist she has spoken out clearly and strongly in Iran, and far beyond its borders. She has stood up as a sound professional, a courageous person, and has never heeded the threats to her own safety.”

Ebadi’s immediate reaction on winning the prize was to issue a bold statement:

“I call on the Iranian government to respect human rights, and I hope in the future things will move positively. What is most urgent is respect for freedom of expression and the release of prisoners of conscience “

On this occasion she also criticized the United States for its attitude to Iran and spoke out against any international intervention in Iran. “The fight for human rights is conducted in Iran by the Iranian people, and we are against foreign intervention in Iran.”

Reform and Resistance

While President Khatami leads the liberal reform movement in Iran, supported strongly by Iranian women, the hardline fundamentalists are still active and powerful. Nevertheless lawyers such as Shirin Ebadi continued their work for human rights despite the climate of fear caused by a spate of grisly killings of Iranian intellectuals. She represents the family of Dariush Farouhar a dissident intellectual who with his wife Parveneh, was killed last year. The resistance put up by lawyers has led President Khatami to order an inquiry into the killings.

In 2001, Ebadi was jailed for attending a conference on Iranian reform in Berlin. She has also consistently spoken out against laws that oppress women, has campaigned for the reform of family law, and has written and lectured on these subjects. As Ebadi said on receiving the Nobel Prize “It is not easy to be a woman in Iran because of Iranian law. But the beauty of life in Iran is to fight under difficult circumstances as a woman and as a jurist,” also making the point that “the Prize gives one more energy to continue the fight for a better future. This day does not belong to me, but to all militants for human rights in the world.”

Progressive Islam

Much is being written about Shirin Ebadi being the first Muslim woman to win the Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee stressed this factor. “Ebadi sees no conflict between Islam and fundamental human rights” adding “We hope that the people of Iran will feel joyous that for the first time in history one of their citizens has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and we hope the Prize will be an inspiration for all those who struggle for human rights and democracy in her country, in the Moslem world, and in all countries where the fight for human rights needs inspiration and support.”

Ebadi herself makes the point about Islam. “My problem is not with Islam, it is with the culture of patriarchy ”she says “for twenty years I have been putting out the message that it is possible to be Muslim and have laws that respect human rights. Islam is not incompatible with human rights and all Muslims should be glad about this Prize.”

Example to Sri Lankans

Shirin Ebadi sets a fine example of courage to all women’s struggles for human rights. Her Nobel Prize will be acclaimed by those in Sri Lanka who are linked with movements for peace, human rights and gender equity. We hope this will also be an occasion for Muslim women and men in Sri Lanka to reflect on the need for reform in order to change oppressive aspects of the customary law that governs them. Many provisions of this law are in conflict with womens rights as guaranteed in the general law, in the constitution of Sri Lanka and in the international conventions on women signed by the government of Sri Lanka.

Iranian women from the early 20th century onwards have a long history of struggle for political rights and for economic opportunities and for social justice. We hope that Shirin Ebadi’s important award will mark a new phase in women’s movements for liberation, in both Iran and the rest of the world.