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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 October, 2003, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
Peace award divides Iran

By Jim Muir
BBC Tehran correspondent

The news that the Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi has won the Nobel Peace Prize has met with mixed feelings in her own country.

While her supporters in the reform movement were clearly delighted, hardliners who don't share her liberal views were not pleased to see the outside world honouring someone they regard as a dissident.

Shirin Ebadi
Ebadi has fought in the corner of high-profile Iranian dissidents

There was little coverage of the award in the state media.

Most of the official media are regarded as strongholds of the conservative hardliners.

Shirin Ebadi made her mark in the field of women's rights here even before the 1979 Islamic revolution, being appointed Iran's first woman judge.

Pioneering role

That distinction was removed after the revolution, and she took to teaching law at university. But she soon went beyond that to become an activist pioneer of women's and children's rights, seeking changes particularly in the way the divorce and inheritance laws work in Iran.

She also took up the cases of liberal and dissident figures who fell foul of the judiciary, one of the bastions of hardline power here.

I hope the people who do not approve of her will now reconsider their position
Female MP Sharbanou Amani

Two of her clients, liberal intellectuals Daryoush and Parvaneh Forouhar, were stabbed to death in a series of killings in 1998 which turned out to be the work of "rogue elements" in the Intelligence Ministry.

Shirin Ebadi found herself in the dock in 2000, accused of distributing the video-taped confession of a hardline hooligan who claimed that prominent conservative leaders were instigating physical attacks on pro-reform gatherings and figures.

That won her a suspended jail sentence and a professional ban, but it also brought increasing outside recognition from human rights groups abroad.

Since then, she has continued her pioneering role, setting up a new non-governmental organisation, the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights.

Award's message

Fellow human rights campaigners, and the reform movement in general, were clearly delighted by the prestigious award, seeing it as validation of their own cause.

"I hope the people who do not approve of her will now reconsider their position," Sharbanou Amani, one of 13 women MPs in the Iranian parliament, told the French news agency AFP. "It is a source of pride for Iran's intellectuals."

Elaheh Koulaie, another female reformist MP, said the prize "shows the world community that the democracy process in Iran is going forward."

Other reformists pointed to the huge discrepancy between the international recognition conferred on Ms Ebadi and the causes she is struggling for, and the dire situation she and her colleagues face at home.

In addition to feeling discomfited by the award, some conservatives saw it as a further attempt by outsiders to intervene in Iranian politics. The Nobel committee said it hoped the prize would encourage those inside Iran struggling for human rights and democracy.

"This prize carried the message that Europe intends to put further pressure on human rights issues in Iran as a political move to achieve its particular objectives," said Amir Mohebian, a commentator at the hardline newspaper Resalat.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The Nobel Committee announcement
"She [Shirin Ebadi] favours enlightenment and dialogue as the best path to changing attitudes and resolving conflict"


The BBC's Jim Fish
"The Norwegian Nobel Committee surprised many with their choice"



SEE ALSO:
Shirin Ebadi's peace prize citation
10 Oct 03  |  Middle East
Bookies tip Pope for prize
09 Oct 03  |  Europe
Iran's pro-reform lawyers banned
28 Sep 00  |  Middle East
Conviction of Iranian lawyers condemned
29 Sep 00  |  Middle East


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