Winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize
Iranian Reformers Hail Nobel Prize Winner
Fri Oct 10, 6:58 PM ET
By BRIAN MURPHY, Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran - The Nobel Peace Prize award for Iranian lawyer-activist
Shirin Ebadi may do more than place her in the rarified company of history-shapers
such as Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa. It could hand Iranian reformers
what they've been craving: a leader with the clout to rattle the entrenched
Ebadi — who also is Iran's first female judge — was praised
around the world as a courageous champion of political freedom after
the Norwegian Nobel Committee honored her Friday for promoting peaceful
and democratic solutions in the struggle for human rights.
The prize, announced Friday in Oslo, Norway, gave hope to the dispirited
reformers challenging Iran's ruling clerics that the 56-year-old lawyer's
newfound prominence may breathe life into their tired ranks.
"This prize doesn't belong to me only. It belongs to all people
who work for human rights and democracy in Iran," Ebadi said in
Paris, where she was attending a conference.
Ebadi, who was jailed for three weeks in 2000, has been a forceful
advocate for women, children and those on the margins of society.
"As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist, she has spoken
out clearly and strongly in her country, Iran, far beyond its borders,"
the Nobel committee said in its citation.
Reformers in Iran may now expect even more: a firebrand willing to
directly battle the powerful theocracy in the model of other history-shaping
Nobel laureates such as Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa.
"She is an international figure now," said Isa Saharqis,
a prominent reformer and editor of the monthly political journal, Aftab,
or Sun. "The conservatives cannot close their eyes to this."
Iranian state media waited hours to report the Nobel committee's decision
— and then only as the last item on the radio news update.
It was not until late Friday that Iran issued an official statement,
with government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh congratulating Ebadi
for her prize.
"We hope more attention will be paid to the opinions of Mrs.
Ebadi both inside and outside Iran more than before," he said.
"In the name of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran,
I congratulate Mrs. Ebadi and all Iranian Muslim women," Ramezanzadeh
told The Associated Press.
"We are happy that a Muslim Iranian woman has behaved, using
the capabilities of the country in the fields of defending human rights,
especially the rights of children and women, in a way that is appreciated
by the peace-loving bodies around the world."
Ramezanzadeh said the government is expected to send a top official
to attend Ebadi's welcome ceremony in Tehran on Tuesday.
At Ebadi's home, her family watched updates on international broadcasts
via a satellite dish — technically illegal but recently tolerated
as conservatives try to soften opposition.
"The reform movement is reborn," said Javad Tavassolian,
Ebadi's 79-year-old mother, Minu Yamini, said the Nobel announcement
was just the third time she cried for her daughter. The first was her
university graduation; the second was when she was jailed.
Ebadi, who is often sharply criticized by Iran's hard-liners and conservative
clerics, was convicted in a closed trial three years ago of slandering
government officials. She was given a suspended sentence following her
three weeks in jail.
At her news conference in Paris, Ebadi said Iran's most pressing human
rights crisis is the lack of free speech, and she urged the government
to immediately release prisoners jailed for expressing their opinions.
"There is no difference between Islam and human rights,"
said Ebadi, who was not wearing the Islamic head covering required for
women in Iran.
"Therefore, the religious ones should also welcome this award,"
she added. "The prize means you can be a Muslim and at the same
time have human rights."
Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, has often said the same
in his vision of "Islamic democracy." But Khatami has been
discredited in the eyes of many mainstream reformers for his unwillingness
to press for rapid change. More radical activists are also disheartened
by the failure of street protests, including a violent but short-lived
confrontation with authorities in June.
Now, reformers appear ready to look for direction and unity from Ebadi,
who is scheduled to return to Iran on Tuesday. One of the first tests
could be February parliamentary elections, which many reformers have
suggested they would shun as a show of frustration.
"Today is a happy day in Iranian history," said Saeed Pourazizi,
a close ally of Khatami. "I don't hide my deep feelings of happiness."
The National Council of Resistance of Iran, a Paris-based group opposing
the clerical establishment, called the Nobel award "an act against
the religious fascism ruling Iran."
Although Iranian women serve in parliament and have far fewer limits
than in other Middle Eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia, laws still
impose some boundaries. An Iranian woman needs her husband's permission
to work or travel abroad, and a man's court testimony is considered
twice as important as that of a woman.
"The prize is an outcome of her relentless fight against inequality,"
said Azam Taleqani, leader of a women's rights group.
Ebadi served as Iran's first female judge in the waning years of the
Western-backed monarchy, which was toppled by the Islamic Revolution
of 1979, when she was forced to resign.
She turned her law office into a base for rights crusades and assaults
on the establishment on issues such a persecution of dissidents and
now-rare punishments such as stoning and flogging for social offenses.
She has taken cases dealing with domestic abuse and the rights of street
children. Her writings have touched on rights for refugees, women and
In 2001, Ebadi wrote in an Iranian magazine about her experience in
jail — the loneliness of her confinement and the agony of recurring
back pain and other ailments.
"I hate myself for being so weak," she wrote in the Payam
Emrooz Monthly Review. "I try not to complain. I would just press
my teeth against each other and would flex my fingers hard — my
nails have turned blue because of the intensity of the pressure —
but never would I groan."
Last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, former President Jimmy Carter,
called Ebadi's work "an inspiration to people in Iran and around
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the award underscores "the
importance of expanding human rights throughout the world."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan called her "a lifetime champion
of the cause of human dignity and democracy."
This year's prize is worth $1.3 million. Speculation on winners this
year had centered on former Czech President Vaclav Havel and Pope John
Ebadi is the third Muslim to win. Yasser Arafat took the prize in 1994,
sharing it with then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In 1978, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat shared
the award with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin for jointly negotiating
peace between the two countries. Rabin and Sadat were assassinated after
winning their prizes.
The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary
of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel's death. The other prizes will
be given that day in the Swedish capital, Stockholm.
Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi's speech in Persian
in English- Oslo December 10, 2003