| Shirin Ebadi at a press conference in Tehran. (Reuters)
Tehran, Oct. 15 (Reuters): Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi today called for the immediate release of jailed dissidents in the Islamic Republic and insisted that human rights were not incompatible with Islam.
The human rights lawyer’s Nobel win has ignited fierce debate in Iran with hardliners labelling her a political stooge of the West while pro-reform activists hail her as a symbol of the fight for greater democracy and freedom in Iran.
“I wish for the release of all political prisoners and jailed journalists, as soon as possible,” Ebadi told a news conference the day after returning to Iran to an emotional reception from hundreds of supporters.
Dozens of pro-reform activists have been jailed and scores of liberal newspapers have been shut down by Iran’s hardline judiciary in the past four years.
The crowd of 3,000 people who turned out to welcome Ebadi home at Tehran’s main airport last night chanted, “Free political prisoners.”
Iranian officials promised the European Union last week to provide information on some 30 political prisoners held in jail. The EU on Monday accused Iran of practising torture, suppressing freedom of expression and discriminating against women.
Ebadi, 56, a human rights lawyer, spent almost three weeks in jail herself and was banned from practising law for five years in 2000.
Many ordinary Iranians hope Ebadi’s Nobel award could reinvigorate Iran’s reformist movement which has struggled under moderate President Mohammad Khatami to make much headway in the face of stiff resistance to change from powerful hardliners.
But Ebadi quickly dismissed speculation that her new-found fame would see her launch into the political arena. “If entering politics means gaining power, God save me from the day I become tempted by power,” she said. A long-time campaigner for women’s and children’s rights, Ebadi insisted that Islam was a religion of peace and equality and could not be blamed for human rights abuses.
“If women in Islamic countries are oppressed it is because of their male-dominated cultures, not because of Islam,” she said.
Ebadi’s award was welcomed with muted enthusiasm by Khatami yesterday. He said that while he was pleased an Iranian had won, the peace prize was not as important as the Nobel prizes for literature and science.
The UN nuclear watchdog chief said today Iran could not expect an extension of an October 31 deadline to prove it does not have a secret atomic weapons programme.
Iran denies US accusations it is trying to develop an atomic bomb, but due to past failures to fully declare its nuclear sites the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has set the deadline for Tehran to show evidence or face possible UN Security Council sanctions.