Page last updated at 18:00 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009

Tehran denies seizing Shirin Ebadi's Nobel medal

Shirin Ebadi says she has been threatened by the Iranian authorities

Iran has denied confiscating the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the lawyer and human rights activist, Shirin Ebadi.

The foreign ministry also criticised Norway, who had earlier summoned the Iranian ambassador over the claim, for trying to interfere in Iran's affairs.

It followed an accusation by Ms Ebadi that the medal and accompanying diploma had been taken from a safety-deposit box on the orders of the judiciary.

Ms Ebadi became the first Muslim woman to be awarded a Nobel prize in 2003.

She left Iran for a conference the day before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in June and has not returned since, blaming "threatening messages" she had been sent by officials.

'First time'

In an interview with the BBC on Friday, Ms Ebadi said the Iranian authorities' actions, which also included freezing her and her husband's bank accounts and pensions, had been against the law and contravened international standards.

I will return whenever it is useful for my country
Shirin Ebadi

She also rejected allegations that she owed $410,000 in taxes on the $1.3m prize money she was given by the Nobel committee.

"According to our tax laws, there is no tax payable on the Nobel Prize. But assuming they are telling the truth and I have to pay tax on this prize, why have they confiscated it and seized the bank account and the box belonging to my husband?" she asked.

Even if tax hypothetically needed to be paid, an order to seize the bank account would have come from the tax authorities, not Tehran's Revolutionary Court, the former judge added.

Ms Ebadi said her French Legion d'Honneur award and a ring given by the German association of journalists had also been taken.

Norway, which presents the award, said it was "shocked" by the claim that the award had been confiscated.

The country's foreign ministry said it was the first time national authorities had taken such action and compared the treatment of Ms Ebadi with that of the Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Su Kyi.


Ms Ebadi had previously criticised Iran's recent disputed election and the subsequent treatment of protesters.

She has not been back to Iran since the result, which gave the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad victory, leading thousands of people to protest for several days.

Ms Ebadi said she had "received many threatening messages" since criticizing the government's treatment of those who were arrested during the demonstrations.

Nobel Peace Institute director Geir Lundestad: "We find it totally unacceptable"

"They said they would detain me if I returned, or that they would make the environment unsafe for me wherever I am," she said, adding that her colleagues still in the country had also been "detained or banned from travelling abroad".

She also said her sister, who also lives in Tehran, had been told to leave.

But Ms Ebadi said she would not let anyone prevent her from carrying out her "legal activities" and would eventually go back to Iran.

"I will return whenever it is useful for my country," she said.

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a spokesman for Ms Ebadi's human rights group, said the prize money had been used "to help prisoners of conscience and their families".

"The account has been blocked by the officials and they do not allow withdrawals," the AFP news agency quoted the lawyer as saying.

Mr Dadkhah described both the blocking of the account and the confiscation of the award as "politicised".

The Norwegian foreign ministry said it was also concerned about the alleged beating of Ms Ebadi's husband in Tehran and said "the persecution of Dr Ebadi and her family shows that freedom of expression is under great pressure in Iran".

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