By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
WASHINGTON -- Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has launched a new initiative aimed at stirring debate among the Iranian public about the country's nuclear program.
The nuclear issue, she says, is more than just a political matter.
"It is a subject of national concern that directly influences people's daily lives," she writes in an online appeal, which as of November 5 had been signed by more than 300 intellectuals and activists both inside and outside of Iran.
The human rights lawyer and former judge outlines the aims of her new initiative, titled "National Dialogue on Nuclear Energy," in an interview with RFE/RL.
"My goal is to create scientific, economic, and environmental discussions to demonstrate to the people the pro and cons of nuclear energy. Then it will be up to the people to decide whether the nuclear policy of the government has been well-advised or not," Ebadi says.
Ebadi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her human-rights efforts in Iran, hopes that Farsi-language media outside of Iran, news websites, and social-networking outlets will help promote the debate on the nuclear issue.
Ebadi, who has come under pressure by the Iranian regime and has lived in exile abroad since 2009, says censorship has prevented such a debate inside Iran.
Iran's government have said the Bushehr nuclear plant is secure against earthquakes.
The Iranian establishment has claimed the country's nuclear activities, which it says are for civilian purposes, have widespread support from the Iranian public. As the country has come under international scrutiny for its enrichment program, Tehran has promoted the slogan "Nuclear Energy Is Our Inalienable Right."
Reporters without Borders, which has backed Ebadi's appeal, says Iranian authorities have censored independent coverage of the nuclear issue.
"[Journalists] are forbidden to cover all nuclear matters, such as the signing of an International Atomic Energy Agency protocol, the negotiations about Iran's nuclear program with the 5+1 group (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States plus Germany), representing the international community, and even nuclear energy's environmental impact and the cost of building nuclear power plants," the French media watchdog said in a November 5 statement.
Ebadi says that since 2005, state media have been only allowed to carry official statements about the nuclear program. As a result, she says, environmental issues and the economic advantages and disadvantages of a nuclear program have not been debated publicly.
"As an example, because of the severe censorship that prevails in Iran, few people are aware that the location of the Bushehr nuclear plant is not suitable and that it has been built [near] three earthquake fault lines," Ebadi says. "Now the government says it is planning to build a second nuclear plant. Is building another nuclear plant in Iran's national interests? It should be put to debate from different angles."
The 66-year-old Ebadi says Iranians have the right to be informed even though the establishment is not likely to listen to their demands: "Unfortunately, the Iranian establishment doesn't have a positive record of listening to the voice of its people. But that doesn't mean we should leave the people in the dark. We want to promote freedom of speech and cross red lines."
Last year, prominent reformist figure and former Interior Minister Abdollah Nuri called on Iranian leaders to hold a referendum on the fate of the country's nuclear program. Nuri said the "ill-effects, disadvantages, and pressure" that Iran is experiencing over its nuclear activities have gone beyond the acceptable limit.
His call was ignored by Iran's tightly controlled state media.
In recent years, some Iranians have turned to social media to discuss sensitive issues such as the nuclear program.
Many say they back their country's nuclear work. Others have been questioning the need for nuclear energy.
An Iranian recently used the Facebook page of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to challenge some of the official statements regarding Tehran's nuclear activities.
"Nuclear energy is our last inalienable right," wrote the user, adding that Iranians have other important rights.
"Living without stress is our inalienable right. Healthy food and healthy air is our inalienable right. Appropriate jobs and adequate wages is our inalienable right. Psychological and social security is our inalienable right. Freedom of speech is our inalienable right," the user wrote.
He also wished Iran's nuclear team good luck in its negotiations with the West.
Iranian negotiators are due to meet with Western officials this week to try to find a peaceful solution to the crisis over Iran's nuclear activities.
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