Reporters Without Borders today condemned a government decision to ban the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, an Iranian NGO that has played an active role for years in defending journalists and freedom of expression. The 2003 Nobel peace laureate, lawyer Shirin Ebadi, was one of its founders and continues to be one of its leaders.
The interior ministry declared the centre "illegal" on 5 August. Although not constitutionally necessary, the centre had been requesting authorisation to operate ever since it was founded in 2002. The interior ministry always refused to issue one, without ever explaining why.
"This ban is a violation of the Iranian constitution because non-governmental organisation are under no legal obligation to obtain a permit," Reporters Without Borders said. "This is a new bid to silence human rights activists in Iran. We call on the authorities to let the centre continue its work in according with international standards."
Ebadi told Reporters Without Borders: "We did not need to ask for authorisation, but a request for a permit was nonetheless made in compliance with an Iranian law currently in force, although this law violates the constitution. Anyway, the Islamic Republic of Iran does not respect its own laws."
She added that the centre would not take the ban lying down. "We will contest the ministry's decision and we will exhaust all the legal recourse to obtain our rights," she said
The ban came three weeks after one of the centre's lawyers, Abdolfattah Soltani, was sentenced on 16 July to five years in prison for "spreading confidential information" and "opposing the regime." Soltani's clients included the family of Zahra Kazemi, a photographer with Iranian and Canadian dual citizenship who died in July 2003 as a result of blows to the head while in custody in Tehran.
Ebadi is one of the six lawyers who founded the centre, which defends minorities, dissidents and journalists in various ways, including the provision of free legal aid.
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