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Nobel Peace Laureate Says Respect For Human Rights Not Incompatible With Islam - 2003-10-10

This year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Iranian lawyer and human rights advocate Shirin Ebadi, is urging the Iranian government to respect human rights and to release all political prisoners. Ms. Ebadi, who won the Nobel Prize for her work on behalf of women and children, said respect for human rights is not incompatible with Islam.

Ms. Ebadi is the first Muslim woman and the first Iranian to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Speaking in Farsi, she told a packed news conference in Paris she was shocked when she heard the news from a friend.

Ms. Ebadi said the prize belongs to every fighter for human rights, freedom and democracy in Iran. She says all those jailed in Iranian prisons for speaking their minds should be freed.

Ms. Ebadi became one of Iran's first female judges in 1974, at just 37-years-old. But she was forced to quit her position after the country's 1979 revolution, which ushered a hard-line Islamic government into power. She has since dedicated her career to fighting for the rights of Iran's women and children.

Karim Lahidji, president of the Paris-based League for Defending Human Rights in Iran, told French radio that millions of Iranians were quietly cheering Ms. Ebadi's Nobel Prize.

Mr. Lahidji said Ms. Ebadi had been imprisoned in Iran for her beliefs. He described her peace prize as a victory for Iranian women and for the country as a whole.

Besides denouncing the lack of free speech and women's rights in Iran, Ms. Ebadi also criticized the lack of democracy in many Muslim countries where, she said, "human rights were violated in the name of Islam."

But, in a few rare words of English, she said conditions following the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were no better. In those countries, she said, people lacked basic needs, not just human rights.

"In Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in Iraq, people don't have water and electricity," she said. "And it is very important for people. How can you talk about human rights, about freedom, about democracy?"

She said the Nobel Prize gave her more energy to continue her campaign.