Tehran, Oct. 14 (Reuters): About 3,000 Iranians, chanting “Free political prisoners” and “Liberty and justice are the slogans of our nation”, welcomed home Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi at Tehran’s main airport today.
Human rights lawyer Ebadi’s Nobel prize has ignited mixed passions in her home country, reflecting the deep political divisions between reformers and hardliners over the future of the Islamic Republic.
Welcomers, many holding aloft pictures of Ebadi, crowded the main building of Tehran’s Mehrabad international airport. A large white banner proclaimed: “We welcome home Shirin Ebadi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.”
In a separate part of the airport complex, Ebadi was greeted by members of her close family, parliamentarians and representatives of President Mohammad Khatami’s reformist government.
“I feel like a child who has returned to her mother, like a drop of water which has returned to the ocean,” she told reporters.
Asked what she thought Iranian authorities should do with dozens of political prisoners, some of whom she has defended, who are held in Iran’s jails, she said: “I hope they will be released.”
She flew in from Paris, where she had been attending a conference when informed of her Nobel win on Friday.
Outside the airport, well-wishers, many clutching long-stemmed white flowers, punched the air as they chanted daring political slogans. Security at the airport was not noticeably tighter than usual.
“It’s a proud day, not just for Iranians but for the whole world,” said Bahram, a 25-year-old interpreter.
“It’s so emotional and unbelievable. Everyone here came to support her and her causes,” said Zahra, 23, a student who like many of the women present sported a white headscarf as a symbol of peace.
Earlier today, President Khatami said he was pleased an Iranian had won the Nobel Peace Prize but played down the importance of the award.
Ebadi, 56, has long been a thorn in the side of Iran's clerical establishment — a vocal advocate of women’s and children’s rights who has taken on some of the prickliest defence cases of political activists.
“I am happy that one of our compatriots has won this award,” Khatami was quoted as saying on the official Irna news agency. But he added: “The Nobel Peace Prize is not that important, the awards for literature and science are more important.”
Hardliners in Iran have described the country’s first Nobel Peace Prize as a political move sponsored by the country’s enemies and lambasted Ebadi for attending a Paris news conference last week without her headscarf.