By Safa Haeri
OSLO-PARIS-TEHRAN 101003 (IPS) Mrs Shirin Ebadi, the outspoken Iranian human rights activist and one of Iran’s most respected lawyer won Friday the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her work “fighting for democracy and the rights of women and children”, a spokesman for the Nobel Peace Price announced.

“This prize doesn't belong to me only, it belongs to all people who work for human rights and democracy in Iran", an obviously delighted and still surprised Ebadi told newsmen in Paris, where she was visiting.

The news filled Iranians all over the world with pride except for the ruling ayatollahs, who saw the world most prestigious award given to an Iranian woman a deliberate “act by Europe to belittle Islam” and forbade the public media they control to inform the Iranians at home from the news.

“People started congratulating each other in the streets. Car drivers, including taxis, opened lights, horning their claxons, some distributed pastries while weeping of joy”, one eyewitness told Iran Press Service on the phone from Tehran.

The 56 years-old Ebadi, who is married and has three children, is the first Iranian and also Muslim woman that win the award that some had hoped would go to the ageing Pope Jean Paul II or former Czech president Vaclav Havel.

One of the very first women under the former Iranian Monarchy to become judge, Mrs. Ebadi was denied her job after the victory of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and was jailed on occasions on charges of slandering government officials and defending prominent Iranian intellectuals and political dissidents and deprived of professional activities for some time.

The award created surprise all over the world, but particularly in Iran, where people learned of the news from foreign-based radio and television stations or by relatives who called them on the phone or send them e-mails.

The Nobel committee said Ebadi is well-known and admired by Iranians for her defence in court of victims of attacks by hard-liners on freedom of speech and political freedom.

"As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist, she has spoken out clearly and strongly in her country, Iran, far beyond its borders," the awards committee said in its citation.

It said she has stood up as a "sound professional, a courageous person, and has never heeded the threat to her own safety."

“This prize belongs to all Iranians and all those who fight for the cause of human rights”, she said, adding that it also shows that Islam was not against human rights and democracy and for this reason, even the clerics must feel proud.

"Therefore, the religious ones should also welcome this award," she said.

“The prize means you can be a Muslim and at the same time have human rights”, Mrs. Ebadi said, with her voice chocked by emotion.

But as the official news agency IRNA reported it in few lines that the evening dailies, controlled by the conservatives refused to print and the radio and television, which are controlled directly by Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, the lamed leader of the Islamic Republic, reporting hours latter, only one official voice, that of Hojjatoleslanm Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the Vice-president for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs saved the day for the authorities in congratulating the laureate.

"I am very satisfied that an Iranian and above all a woman has won the Nobel Peace Prize”, he told AFP. "It is a sign of the very active presence of Iranian women on the social and political scene.

“The fact that a lawyer has won this prize gives us hope that the judicial system will change its methods," he added, referring to the conservative-controlled judiciary in Iran that Ebadi has targetted in her drive for change.

Mrs. Elaheh Koulaie, a female reformist MP and also a human rights campaigner like Mrs Ebadi, said the prize shows the world community that the democracy process in Iran is going forward.

The deputy head of Iran's main press rights body, the Iranian Centre for the Protection of Journalists, also said the prize was a powerful message to Iran's rival political camps, the French news agency AFP reported from Tehran.

Isa Saharkhiz said he hoped they (the ruling conservative minority) “will learn a lesson of how much the values of people who struggle in favour of democracy and freedom of expression are appreciated worldwide”.

Hojjatoleslam Mohsen Rohami, a lawyer and university professor, who was briefly imprisoned along with Mrs. Ebadi in 2000, said he was "very happy that an Iranian human rights activist has won the attention of the international community."

And in a statement given to AFP by his son, Iran's top dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hoseynali Montazeri said he was "happy that an Iranian personality has been awarded such a merit”.

A lawyer for the Foroohar family, Mrs Ebadi criticised the lack of freedom of speech and democracy in Iran and urged the government to immediately release prisoners jailed for expressing their opinions.

Dariush Foroohar, a popular politician and his wife Parvaneh had been savagely killed in their residence in Tehran on late November 1998 by high-ranking agents of the Intelligence Ministry who had also assassinated three other prominent intellectuals and human rights campaigners in Mohammad Mokhtari, Mohammad Ja’far Pooyandeh and Majid Sharif.

She also said she hoped the award would send a message to those in the Iranian leadership who press for nuclear weapons, saying "I hope it will have an effect in Iran. As a person who has actively been involved in human rights, I am against war and conflict, and countries and nations do not need war”, she said during a brief press conference before flying back to Tehran.

"The fight for human rights is conducted in Iran by the Iranian people and we are against any foreign intervention in Iran”, she further said.

"I am extremely happy. This is a great day for reformers in Iran. It's great for her and great for the country," her husband, Javad Tavassolian, said from Tehran, where she was expected to return from Paris next week.

But as the clerical-led authorities ignored the news, messages of congratulations came from most world leaders, including President Jacques Chirac of France and Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner who called Ebadi "a courageous woman who has earned the support of all women in the Western world”.

"It's a great victory for Iran, for human rights militants in Iran, for Iranian democrats in Iran”, said Dr Karim Lahidji, president in exile of the Iranian League for Human Rights and vice president of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, who is a close friend of the Nobel Peace prize winner.

Former US president Jimmy Carter, last year's Nobel peace prize winner, called Ebadi "an inspiration to people in Iran and around the world."

Human rights activists around the world also praised the decision.

"By honouring Shirin, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has recognized the critical importance of human rights and the individuals who defend them around the world”, Amnesty International said.

In Beirut, human rights activist Samira Trad said the Nobel committee "has made a good judgment. It is good for a woman and good for our area."

Jordanian human rights activist Rana Husseini said the award "will promote women's causes worldwide, including Arab and Muslim women's issues."

Committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes said it was an easy decision.

“This is a question of fundamental rights about women, about fundamental rights of children and mothers," he said. "I hope the award of the peace to Ebadi can help strengthen and lend support to the cause of human rights in Iran".

The committee also lauded Ebadi for arguing for a new interpretation of Islamic law that is in harmony with vital human rights such as democracy and equality before the law.

Ebadi is the third Muslim to win the prize. Yasser Arafat won the prize in 1994, sharing it with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In 1978, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat shared the prize with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin for jointly negotiating peace between the two countries.

But Iranian conservatives were not the only ones to be unhappy about the decision, as Polish former president and Solidarity founder Lech Walesa who got the 1983 Peace Prize said the prize should go to the Pope.

“I bear nothing against this lady, but if anyone among the
living deserves it, then it is the Holy Father”, Walesa told TVN24.
The five-member awards committee, which is appointed by but does not answer to Norway's parliament, makes its choices in strict secrecy. It also keeps the names of candidates, a record 165 this year, secret for 50 years, although those who make nominations often reveal them.

The announcements of this year's Nobels started last week with the literature prize going to J.M. Coetzee of South Africa.

The prizes are presented Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896 in the Swedish capital, Stockholm. The Peace Prize is presented in Oslo.

This year's prize is worth $1.3 million. EBADI NOBEL PEACE PRIZE 101003