Page last updated at 12:19 GMT, Tuesday, 14 October 2003 13:19 UK

Khatami advice to Nobel laureate

President Khatami
Mr Khatami played down the award

Iran's President Mohammad Khatami has urged the country's first Nobel Peace Prize winner, human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, to use her award for the good of Iran and world peace.

In his first comment since the award was announced last Friday, Mr Khatami said he hoped Mrs Ebadi would pay attention to the interests of the Islamic world and Iran and "not let her achievement be misused at all".

At the same time, the president played down the significance of the award, saying it was "not very important" and was awarded on the basis of "totally political criteria".

Mrs Ebadi, 56, is a lawyer noted for promoting the rights of women and children by seeking changes in Iran's divorce and inheritance laws.

She is the first Muslim woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mixed reaction

On Friday, Mrs Ebadi called on the government in Tehran to free all political prisoners.

She told a news conference that the most urgent issues for Iran were to deal with freedom of speech and the release of those imprisoned for expressing their opinions.

There was little initial coverage of the award in the conservative-dominated Iranian state media, and Mr Khatami's comments have come in response to a question by an Iranian reporter who wanted to know why he had not officially congratulated Mrs Ebadi.

Mrs Ebadi is on her way back to Iran from France, where she was on a visit when the news of her award came through.

She was greeted at Orly airport in Paris by hundreds of Iranian and French human rights activists celebrating her achievement and wishing her well on her journey.

Controversial success

The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran says Mr Khatami's reaction is a clear reflection of one of the facts of Iranian political life - that outside patronage tends to backfire in the domestic arena, bringing accusations of disloyalty.

Our correspondent says Mrs Ebadi's success has continued to stir controversy in Iran itself, with right-wingers portraying her as a product of the former regime of the Shah and the prize as an attempt to exert political pressure on the Islamic republic.

He says reformist officials have generally welcomed the award, but with caution - and have come under attack for doing so.

Peace award divides Iran
11 Oct 03 |  Middle East
Nobel winner's plea to Iran
10 Oct 03 |  Middle East
Profile: Shirin Ebadi
27 Nov 09 |  Middle East
Shirin Ebadi's peace prize citation
10 Oct 03 |  Middle East

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