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Nobel Peace Laureate Calls on Iran to Release Journalists, Political Prisoners - 2003-10-16

Iranian Nobel Peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi called for her country's rulers to release journalists and political prisoners. In her first news conference in her home country since winning the prize Friday, the human rights activist said she would continue her struggle for democracy in Iran.

The 56-year-old activist told a news conference in Tehran that she is not interested in pursuing a political career, despite her sudden international stature. She said a human rights activist should be among the people.

But she reiterated her calls on Iran's leaders for release the country's political prisoners and other detainees.

This was Ms. Ebadi's first news conference since returning to Iran from Paris, where she was attending a conference when she learned of the Nobel committee's decision.

Ms. Ebadi said she would continue to concentrate her efforts on changing Iran's laws on the rights of women and children. She also condemned violence in the name of Islam, without commenting directly on attacks by hard-line Iranian vigilantes on pro-reform rallies in the country.

Ms. Ebadi arrived Tuesday at Tehran's Mehrabad airport, to the cheers of thousands of Iranian supporters.

Many in the crowd were women wearing white headscarves to symbolize their desire for peaceful change in Iran. Welcomers clapped, linked arms and sang songs dating from before the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The 56-year-old activist was Iran's first female judge, but lost her post after the revolution. She has since angered hardliners by her calls for greater rights for women and children, and by defending political dissidents other lawyers did not dare to represent.

Some hard-liners in Iran claim the country's first Nobel Peace Prize was a political move encouraged by its enemies. They claim Ms. Ebadi seeks to dismantle Iran's Islamic system through Western-backed rights campaigns.

The country's state media, controlled by Iran's conservatives, did not immediately report Ebadi's arrival.

In comments Tuesday on Ms. Ebadi's prize, Iran's reformist President Mohammed Khatami said he was pleased a compatriot had achieved such success. But he also warned her against misusing her newfound fame, and said the Nobel Peace Prize is not very important.