IRANIANS ALWAYS GET WHAT THEY WANT WHEN THEY ARE UNITED

By Safa Haeri

PARIS 16 Dec. (IPS) "Iranians knows that every time they get united and talk with same voice, they would achieve their demands and as far as the Iranian women are concerned, they also would succeed in their aspirations for equality of their rights by peaceful ways", Mrs. Shirin Ebadi assured on Tuesday.

Talking to Iranian, French and Foreign journalist at a press conference held in Paris, the 2003 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize also defended the "legitimate rights" of Iranian voters to choose "freely" their candidates to elections, expressing Ė against all odds--, that the conservatives-controlled Council of Guardians would approve a government bill aiming at reforms in the present electoral laws.

She was referring to two bills presented more than a year ago by the lamed President Mohammad Khatami to curb the extra powers of the 12-members Council in the one hand and enhancing the powers of the president. Approved at the reformists-controlled Majles, or the Iranian Parliament; the Guardians have rejected the bills.

"The Council of the Guardians, after at first instance having opposed for months, if not years, the rights of women to be in charge of their children until the age of seven, ended to approve it, marking a great victory in the long struggle of Iranian mothers. I donít see why it could not change its view concerning the controversial bills", she pointed out.

Under present system, the Council of the Guardians has the right to approve or reject any candidate to any elections. "Iranians are against this election system that denies voters the right of choosing their candidates", Mrs. Ebadi said.

On Monday, French President Jacques Chirac, during a half an hour audience with Mrs. Ebadi, assured the Nobel Peace laureate that France would press other members of the European Union to back amendments in the present Iranian electoral system, "as demanded by Mrs. Ebadi", according to a statement form the Elysee Palace.

"Before (the Islamic) revolution (of 1979), there were some female judges (including herself). They were removed from their posts after the revolution under the pretext that Islam does not accept judgment pronounced by women. But now, we have two female judges and two magistrates assessors", she observed, explaining why in her view, Islam was not against equality of the rights between men and women or against democracy.

Earlier, and after meeting with the French Foreign Affairs Minister Dominique de Villepin, she criticised French laws banning young Muslim collegians and students from wearing scarf at schools or in universities, saying this attitude was "against individual rights to chose their outfits".

"Such radical attitudes increases fundamentalism and is against human rights", she charged as controversy about the question of veil at schools, colleges and universities rages in France.

Asked if she does not want to emulate the South African Archbishop Desmund Tutu to use her prestigious Prize as a political tool for the advancement of human rights in Iran, she said situations in her homeland and South Africa (under the former Apartheid system) was different. "In Iran, experience tells us that we can achieve our goals by peaceful means", she noted.

"I did not receive a golden key with which I can open the doors of prisons in Iran", Mrs. Ebadi said to a question concerning the situation of Iranian political prisoners, reminding that she had always fought fro the "unconditional" freedom of prisoners of conscience, including Iranian students, lawyers and journalists.

Dr Adbdolfattah Soltani, an Iranian lawyer defending the case of jailed students who was present at the press conference confirmed that pressures on the students were increasing following the studentís anti-regime demonstrations of the past months.

A founder of the Iranian Centre for the Defence of Political Prisoners with Mrs. Ebadi, who is also a lawyer, Mr. Soltani was in prison when Mr. Louis Jouannet, a French magistrate, also present at the press conference, visited Iran last month conducting an international delegation to review the situation of political prisoners in the Islamic Republic.

However, Mr. Soltani said, of the "tens" of students arrested during the nightly protests, more than 90 per cent have been released, he said, adding that in his view, authoritiesí pressures over the students would decrease "due to electoral considerations".

In Paris, Mr. Soltani received the French government honnour of human rights during an official ceremony on Monday.

On the situation of Mr. Ahmad Batebi, the young student whoís picture holding over his head a blood-stained T-shirt of a fellow student shot by security forces during students upraising of July 1998 was displayed in the western press, including the cover page of the influential British weekly "The Economist", Mr. Soltani said his demand to transfer Mr. Batebi outside prison for urgent medical examination had not been heard so far.

Condemned to capital punishment, Mr. Batebiís sentence was reduced to 15 years imprisonment. He "disappeared" a month ago after meeting briefly a UN special human rights envoy to Tehran, Mr. Ligabo while on short leave from prison, but "surfaced" in a solitary cell in Evin prison.

"In order to work properly and serving the peaople and the cause of justice. the Judiciary must be separated and independent from politics", Mrs. Ebadi concluded her press conference, a direct critic of the present Iranian Judiciary that is under the direct control of the ruling conservative ayatollahs. ENDS EBADI PRESS CONF 161203