Iran: Officials Ban Rights Group Led By Nobel Peace Laureate
Iran has banned a rights group led by
the country's 2003 Nobel Peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi. The Interior Ministry
said on August 2 that Ebadi's four-year-old Center of Human Rights Defenders
failed to obtain a valid operating permit and warned that any related activities
could be prosecuted. The center has been an ardent voice for human and minority
rights in Iran since its inception. Ebadi, who has been among the Iranian
leadership's fiercest critics.
PRAGUE, August 7, 2006
(RFE/RL) -- The Interior Ministry says in its statement that the Center of Human
Rights Defenders had no official permit and its activities were therefore
But Shirin Ebadi, who leads the group, tells RFE/RL
that her group has been operating in Iran legally.
Ebadi is a
lawyer by profession. She says she thinks it is the Interior Ministry's
statement that violates Iranian law.
"Under Article 26 of Iran's
constitution, nongovernmental organizations, associations, and parties that
observe the law and do not disrupt public order are free to [pursue] their
activities," Ebadi says. "In that regard, I must say that the Center of Human
Rights Defenders needs no permit because it is active in promoting human rights
in Iran and defending the cases of political prisoners and prisoners of
conscience without [charging any] fees."
Nevertheless, her group applied for a permit with the Interior Ministry four
years ago. But Ebadi says that official assurances at the time proved
"They agreed with the establishment of the center. We
showed our charter, [and] they said there were a few minor problems that we
removed. It was decided that within 15 days they would give us a permit to
operate. But it has been four years, and they haven't issued [such a permit].
I'm really sorry that they never gave us a permit -- either under the government
of [former President] Mohammad Khatami or under the government of [current
President] Mahmud Ahmadinejad."
The Center of Human Rights Defenders was founded
by Ebadi and several other leading Iranian rights advocates in 2002.
Other founders include Abdolfatah Soltani -- who was recently sentenced to
five years in prison -- and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, Mohammad Seyfzadeh, and
The French government awarded the center the
French Human Rights Prize in December 2003.
The center has been
critical in its reports and statements of human rights violations in
In one of its
latest statements, the Center of Human Rights Defenders called for an
independent investigation into what it calls the "suspicious" death of jailed
former student protest leader Akbar Mohammadi. Mohammadi died in prison on July
30 following a hunger strike.
The center has defended activists
and dissidents -- including prominent journalist Akbar Ganji, who was freed in
March after spending more than five years in jail.
The center also
represented the family of slain Iranian Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi,
who died after her interrogation at Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
But Ebadi considers her group's biggest achievement to be its role in
raising public awareness about human rights issue.
society the value of defending human rights," Ebadi says. "We told society that
whoever works for human rights is not alone -- the Center of Human Rights
Defenders will protect [them]."
Four years after the establishment of the center,
the Interior Ministry has warned that its members could face "prosecution" if
they continue their activities.
Fellow founder Soltani was
recently sentenced to five years for allegedly disclosure of classified
information and involvement in what authorities have termed "propaganda against
Soltani has denied the charges and accused officials
of persecuting him over his rights activities.
The center's other
members have reportedly also come under pressure in connection with their
Determined To Continue
Ebadi has complained in the past of death threats.
RFE/RL that human rights work in Iran is not "easy," but she says her center is
determined to continue its activities.
"All of our activities are
in accordance with Iranian laws," Ebadi says. "There is no reason to suspend or
Ebadi says her group will pursue all legal channels to
exercise its rights.
The Center of Human Rights Defenders is a
member of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights.
Iran's official ban is likely to provoke condemnation among international
human rights advocates, who have frequently targeted Iran for perceived
But there is little indication that officials in Tehran
will be listening.
Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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