The news was stunning: Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize. She would surely be among the top 3 women, if those who are following the news and developments in Iran were to name the most active, brave, straightforward and dedicated females of the last 25 years of political and social activism in Iran.
She was the first woman to become a judge in the history of Iranian judiciary system in the era of Pahlavi dictatorship, but she was sadly removed after the 1979 revolution when the backward interpretation of Islam that was implemented did not allow women to serve as judges. Fortunately she didn't stop. Not only she continued her precious career fighting for justice as a brave female attorney within an extremely sexist system, she also started writing articles and publishing books to advocate democracy, freedom and human rights in general, and women and children rights in particular.
She became better-known to the general public when she got involved in sensitive political cases.
Defending prominent and outspoken intellectuals, who were prosecuted only because of their beliefs and their courage to criticize the corruption and tyranny of the powerful fundamentalist clerics, made her an exceptional figure. Many still remember her defence of the famous author, Abbas Maroofi, back in 1995. We won't forget the fall of 1998 when she became the first lawyer to stand by the family of late Mr. And Mrs. Forouhar—brutally murdered by the agents of the intelligent service—and represented their case. In this connection, she is a member of Committee for the Defense of Rights of the Victims of the Serial Murders.
We, as student victims of the savage attacks on Tehran University dormitory by fanatic vigilantes supported by the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, can't forget her courage when in summer of 1999 she was one of the two lawyers who defended us in the partial courts till the end. She was sent to jail herself in the process of presenting the evidence, accused of producing a video-tape of Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, a former member of the paramilitary vigiantes, who disclosed insider information on the workings of the group and the events surrounding the attacks. And there were times when thugs-for-hire stopped her in the dark and threatened her to death.
Her doctorine of peaceful, non-violent and legal fight has already become a principle for Iranians in their struggle for a true democracy. She stood for Iranian women who have been deprived of not only their right to speak their mind and elect their government but also of their basic right to freedom of dress and their fundamental right to be protected by the state against often assaults by the men in their family and to be treated equally when it comes to disputes with their husbands, sons and fathers. She is among the founders of the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child, an organization in support of children rights, as well as the Iranian Association in Support of Human Rights, which provides free legal aids to the victims of human rights abuse.
The Nobel Peace Prize for an Iranian woman on the one hand brings honor and pride to all Iranians—women, men, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Jew, Christian, Bahai, Kurdish, Azari, Persian—especially those who care or actively participate in the dangerous process of achieving democracy in Iran, and on the other hand has a very strong message to two prominent groups who are opposed to such a process.
First of all are the hard-line and anti-reform rulers of Iran, who are in a very embarrassing and politically difficult situation. After all one of the thousands that they sent to jail and oppressed in the last 25 years and especially in the past 6 years, is now a world wide figure. They must understand that there is a limit to how much they can crack down a nation, that wants reforms. The international community no longer ignores dictators. A message is also being sent to the neo-conservatives in Washington and their Iranian monarchist allies who are counting the minuets to go back to Iran the way Ahmad Chalabi went back to Iraq. I think the message is really clear: Iranian people are able to have their voice heard in the international community, they need proper international help, similar to the type of political aid that South Africans got with the leadership of Nelson Mandela, but they strongly reject any attempt to repeat Iraq's experience in Iran. The Prize shows that a great potential exists within Iran. Thousands of honest and well-educated activists bravely put their safety in danger and sacrifice the calm of their daily life by helping their fellow citizens in a broad campaign against the violation of human rights with whatever expertise they have. We do not need alternatives such as the LA-based oppositions; we have chosen the peaceful path of reform and in this long-term solution, we are honored to have heroines like Shirin Ebadi.
Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child: SPRC web site, still under construction
Deutche Welle Persian: an Iranian Association in Support of Human Rights recent statement in Persian
Payvand: Shirin Ebadi: Evin prision is not that bad
The Christian Science Monitor: A tough place to be a woman
FToI: Shirin's Day