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2009-02-04

Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi on Threats to Iranian Rights, from Within and Abroad

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Nobel Peace Prize-winning Iranian human rights advocate Shirin Ebadi is on a short visit to the United States speaking out against both American and Israeli military threats to Iran, as well as the growing domestic repression of activists inside Iran. In recent weeks, Ebadi herself as been the target of right-wing attacks in her country. We speak to her about how she is dealing with the climate of repression in her country, her visit to the United States, and why she will continue to fight for human rights in Iran. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Iran says they’ve successfully launched their first domestically made satellite, raising renewed concerns about Iran’s ambitions among American, European and Israeli officials. Iran says the satellite is meant for research and communications.

The launch happened amidst ten-day celebrations marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Iranian revolution that deposed the pro-American Shah from power and redefined Iran as an Islamic Republic.

We’ll have more on the missile launch and American policy toward Iran in our next segment, but right now we’re going to turn to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Iranian human rights advocate Shirin Ebadi. She is on a short visit to the United States, speaking out against both American and Israeli military threats to Iran, as well as the growing domestic repression of activists within Iran.

In recent weeks, Ebadi, herself, has been the target of right-wing attacks in her country. Last December, security forces raided and shut down an organization she helped found, the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, and confiscated documents about her clients, who include some of Iran’s most important political figures of the last thirty years. Since then, her former secretary was arrested, and right-wing crowds have gathered outside her home, accusing her of supporting the United States and Israel.

I spoke with Shirin Ebadi yesterday about how she’s dealing with the climate of repression in her country, her visit to the US, and why she continues to fight for human rights in Iran. I began by asking her to describe what happened to her office in December.

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Yes, it was the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we were going to celebrate that. An hour-and-a-half prior to the celebration, the police came to the Center and informed us that “According to and pursuant to an oral order of the prosecutor, we have to close down the Center and seal it.”

    AMY GOODMAN: And so, then what happened? I understand your secretary was also arrested.

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Yes. And a few days later, they raided my private law office, and on the basis of an excuse of nonpayment of taxes, they took the computers and several of my files away, although this was illegal and they had no right to do that. A few days even later past that, they raided — they came to my house, and they vandalized my house with spray paint and demonstrated against me. They took down my sign, the sign of my law office, and although I had called the police, the police came, but they only watched the demonstrators do the vandalism and the breaking of my sign.

    And unfortunately, a few days even later, a young secretary, a female secretary, at the Center for the Defense of Human Rights was arrested. They went to her house at 6:00 a.m. and arrested her. And she has not been able to meet with any of her attorneys. We have appointed an attorney for her, but the attorney has not been able to meet with her or to talk to her, and she has not been able to meet with any members of her family. She is in solitary confinement at the present time.

    AMY GOODMAN: The significance of the government taking the documents from your law offices? You represent some of the leading political dissidents. Do they now have access to your clients’ information?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Yes, they do have access to important information now. As you know, they have — there is attorney-client privilege, and they should not have taken any of the files. What they did was illegal. I brought a criminal complaint against them for what they have done in taking the files, and to no avail up to now.

    AMY GOODMAN: Shirin Ebadi, you had protesters outside your offices during the Israeli attack on Gaza saying you supported the United States and you supported Israel. Here in this country, there were Iranian Jews who were saying that you weren’t supporting Israel enough. Can you tell us your position on what’s happening right now in Israel and Gaza?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I first have to inform you that the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, that I am the director of, had issued a declaration supporting the people of Gaza prior to the demonstrations in front of my house. However, when you ask me about the differences between Israel and Palestine, I think that they have to negotiate, and they have to accept a two-state solution. The two of them should be able — the two states should be able to live in peace when both countries accept the two-state solution.

    AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the statement of the Israeli prime minister frontrunner, Benjamin Netanyahu. He said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons ranks far above the global economy among the challenges facing leaders in the twenty-first century. I wanted to get your response.

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I don’t think that the Middle East needs nuclear weapons. I also don’t think that Pakistan, India or Israel need nuclear weapons. I think that they all should take measures in abolishing their nuclear weapons.

    AMY GOODMAN: What message do you bring to the United States, as you’ve come here for two days — for several days to speak.

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I first want to congratulate the people of the United States for having elected a president who believes in human rights and on his first day of office ordered the closing down of the Guantanamo prison.

    In the second instance, I want to say that America is a superpower, and the political behavior of America can be a role model for the rest of the world. What I want to suggest is that the United States join the ICC and, in this way, not let the dictators sleep a good night.

    AMY GOODMAN: What exactly do you feel that Barack Obama should do right now? He has talked about direct dialogue with Iran. At what levels do you think the dialogue has to happen?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I think that the dialogue should take place at three levels: at the level of the presidents of both countries, at the level of the parliaments of both countries, and at the level of the civil society of both countries. And I think that the negotiations should bear in mind the interests of the people of both countries, not only the interests of a few companies. In the past, in 1953, the presidents of both countries, or the heads of both countries, spoke, but there the dialogue resulted in a few big oil companies coming to Iran.

    AMY GOODMAN: Shirin Ebadi, there are going to be presidential elections in a few months in Iran. The man considered a reformist, Khatami, may run. Ahmadinejad said he could run. Have you considered running for president of Iran?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I have never had the intention to joining a power. I have to remain among the people and be the representative of people. That’s why I reiterate that I’m not going to join power.

    AMY GOODMAN: Your offices have been raided. Your home has been raided. Your secretary has been arrested. You have the leading women’s rights campaigner in Iran — you can pronounce her name for me — who is now going to jail. Why are you returning to Iran? Do you feel safe there?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I don’t have enough safety in Iran, nor does any other person who works on human rights have enough safety in Iran. But I am going back to Iran. I have to do my work in Iran. And I will remain in Iran. That’s why I’m going back to Iran.

    AMY GOODMAN: This is the thirtieth anniversary of the Iranian revolution. You were a judge, before the revolution, under the Shah; you are no longer. Talk about the state of your country and of women’s rights, in particular.

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Over 65 percent of the university students in Iran are female. Women exist in all levels of government. They work in all levels of government. And they are present in the society. However, unfortunately, after the revolution, discriminatory laws have been passed against women. And I want to give you a few examples of these discriminatory laws. The life of a woman is worth half of that of a man; and therefore, if there is an automobile accident and a man and a woman are involved and their injuries are the same, the compensation paid to the woman is half of that paid to the man. Men can marry four wives. They can divorce their wives without an excuse. [Testimony] of two women in court equals [testimony] of one man. So these are the discriminatory laws I’m talking about.

    AMY GOODMAN: What do you think would change — bring change in Iran? And do you hold out any hope for these elections? Are you supporting anyone? Where do you think the real change will happen?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I believe in freedom of elections. Unfortunately, in Iran, the competency of the candidates has to be approved by the Guardian Council. In other words, they have to be qualified by the Guardian Council. This law is against the constitution of the country of Iran. And I [do] think that until and unless this law is outlawed, that we could have free elections in Iran. This is a principle that I believe in.

    AMY GOODMAN: What gives you any hope? What gives you courage when you return to Iran, especially when you look at, for example, the crackdown now, just over the last few months?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I am going back to Iran. What gives me courage is the duty that I have towards my country. And also, I believe in God, and that helps me.

    AMY GOODMAN: If the United States were to attack Iran, and when you look at the repression that you and others have suffered, would that help the democratic movement in Iran?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] A military attack on Iran or even a threat of a military attack on Iran will deteriorate the situation of human rights and women’s rights, because it gives an excuse to the government to repress them more and more often.

    AMY GOODMAN: Any other thing you would like to add, Shirin Ebadi?

    SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Although the office for the Center for the Defense of Human Rights has been closed down, but we are continuing our work. And this way, we want to tell the government of Iran and the people of Iran that we are going to fight the human rights abuses and the illegality that goes on in this regard in Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Shirin Ebadi is the Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 2003. She returns to Iran this week. She founded the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, which the Iranian government just shut down. And when we come back, we continue on the issue of Iran.

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