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Iraian Nobel Laureate Summoned Before Revolutionary Court For Unspecified Charges

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Iran's judiciary has ordered Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, to appear before the hard-line Revolutionary Court for questioning or face arrest. Ebadi has until 16 January to appear before the court. Ebadi's team of lawyers has been involved in several high-profile human rights cases recently, but the reason for her summons is unclear.

photo: ISNA

Prague, 14 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In an interview with Radio Farda, Shirin Ebadi, the winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, said she has no idea why she has been called to appear before the Revolutionary Court.

"Two days ago, a summons was delivered to my law office in which it was stated that I have to go to the Revolutionary Court to give explanations, without mentioning if I'm accused or not and what the charges are against me," Ebadi said. "In the letter, it was stated that if I don't present myself within [three days], they will order my arrest."

Ebadi said the court order contradicts Iranian law: "Such a summons is not in accordance with criminal law because the law says that if someone commits an offense, he or she must be informed of the allegations against him or her and be summoned to court to present an explanation. This summons from the court -- it does not specify whether I stand accused and, if I am, what my charges are -- stands against our criminal law."

It is unclear how she plans to respond to the court order. Reuters quoted a close colleague of Ebadi's, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, as saying she plans to appear before the court on 15 January.

The Revolutionary Court deals with national security offenses and is known for jailing many political dissidents.

In 2003, Ebadi became the first Muslim woman and the first Iranian to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition for her fight for more rights for Iranian women and children. She is the founder of the Center for Human Rights Defenders, an Iranian rights organization.

Inside Iran, however, her activities have angered some conservatives and hard-liners.

Ebadi said she has received several death threats.

Ebadi and her team of lawyers at the center have been involved in several high-profile cases, such as that of Zahra Kazemi, a photojournalist with dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship. Kazemi died in 2003 from a blow to the head while in custody in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

Ebadi has also called for the release of all political prisoners in Iran and for an end to the practice of issuing death sentences for young offenders that are carried out when the prisoner reaches the age of 18.

The U.S. State Department called the move against Ebadi a violation of international standards of human rights and said it is monitoring the situation.

A State Department official said: "We will continue to follow closely the [Iranian] government's actions against Ms. Ebadi and others, as well as the deteriorating situation in Iran, and will continue to raise this issue and our grave concern over the worsening human rights situation in Iran with friends and allies in the region."

Human rights activists and international organizations defending human rights have also condemned the court order.

Human Rights First, a U.S.-based advocacy group formerly known as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, has called on Iranian authorities to end their harassment of Ebadi.

According to Neil Hicks, director of international programs at Human Rights First, said the judiciary's move demonstrates that "no one who speaks out on human rights in Iran is immune from arbitrary repression and intimidation by the authorities."

Mohammad Seyfzadeh, one of Ebadi's colleagues at the Center of Human Rights Defenders in Tehran, said the court action against Ebadi is causing concern inside Iran, as well.

"Lawyers and human rights activists who have contacted me are very upset," Seyfzadeh said. "Mrs. Ebadi is working within the framework of legal and human rights issues. So [summoning her to court] means the destruction of freedom of expression, it means disregard for people's expertise. She talks within her expertise."

Seyfzadeh said he believes the summons might be connected with Ebadi's human rights activities.

In a statement, the League For the Defense of Human Rights in Iran, an organization based in Paris, said the judicial order is an attempt to silence the voice of human rights activists in Iran.

Ebadi was Iran's first female judge before being forced to resign following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. She was jailed in 2000 for distributing the videotaped confession of a Iranian hard-liner who said prominent conservative leaders were instigating physical attacks on pro-reform figures.

(Mahmonir Rahimi from RFE/RL's Radio Farda contributed to this report.)

Copyright (c) 2005 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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