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Meeting Shirin Ebadi

Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi was recently at the Voy X La Paz Peace Conference in Uruguay, where she participated in talks on human rights and possible paths to peace.


The 71 year old Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi is small of growth, however votes hers is big. Ebadi graduated from the University of Tehran in 1969, six years later she became Iran's first female judge, at the capital city court. However, she lost the position after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. Since the end of the 80 century, she has excelled as a lawyer and human rights advocate. In 2003, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, precisely for her fearless struggle for democracy and equal rights for all people.

The Argentine foundation Fundacion Para La Democracia Internacional (Foundation For International Democracy) recently hosted the peace conference Voy X La Paz (directly translated from Spanish: "I go for peace") in Montevideo. The foundation works to raise awareness and strengthen the democratic processes in all walks of life, and together with Nobel laureates Lech Walesa, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Rigoberta Menchu, Shirin Ebadi was invited to the conference to discuss possible ways of peace in the world, and what tools has to strengthen workers' conditions.

The road to peace

Shirin Ebadi (Photo: Ana Valdés)

When Ny Tid meets her, she admits that she does not know much about Uruguay. Of course, she knows the country's former president, José Mujica, and knows that he had the nickname "the world's poorest president", that he is a farmer and has worked to improve conditions for and the rights of the poor. I fill in the picture, tell her that Mujica was one of the founders of the communist guerrilla movement Tupamaros (National Liberation Army) in the early 60s, and was imprisoned after the military coup in 1973. Throughout the 70s and until 1985, Uruguay had the highest number. political prisoners per capita in the world, and Mujica was not released from prison until 1985. Ebadi is surprised by the information. "Was it a dictatorship in Uruguay? I knew nothing about that. When did it end, and was there any war of resistance? ” Torture and terror against its own population was widespread during the dictatorship, effective resistance fighting was in other words very dangerous. But in the end, it was the people who set foot: After massive protests against the military dictatorship, a referendum was called in 1984 in which the question was whether the people still wanted military rule or wanted a transition to civilian government. Fifty-seven percent of the population said no thanks to continued military rule, and thus began the process of ending the dictatorship. Shirin Ebadi exclaims: "But this is real democracy! The people decided the military had to leave their posts. In Iran, we do not have real democracy. For many years I have been giving speeches and agitating to get our government to call a referendum and change our constitution. We need a process of secularization in Iran, religion and state should not be one. "

Guards' advice

But you have choices in Iran, I ask? "No, we don't have free elections, not at all. Iran's most powerful body is the Guardian Council, where all important religious leaders gather and in practice determine the development of the country. Nothing happens without the approval of this council: All candidates, both for the government and for the position of president must be approved by them before they get elected. We cannot elect someone they have not approved, nor pass laws in parliament without their approval. "

"If there is a war, the resistance and the protests against the government will stop. The Iranians are patriots. ” Shirin Ebadi

When the Islamic Republic was established under Ayatollah Khomeini, the new rulers promised that religious leaders would only work on religious issues. Khomeini promised political and civil liberties to the Iranian people and came to power in Iran as a result of the popular revolution, which was a settlement of the corrupt US-friendly dictatorship of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. Did she believe in Khomeini's promises? “Ninety percent of Iran's population believed in Khomeini. We looked upon him as a Savior, a Messiah. But what happened? He fooled us all. Already during the first year, the state was subject to the control of the religious leaders. The new government executed five thousand dissidents, most of them communists, who were imprisoned. And although female judges within Islam are not prohibited, the Iranian leaders interpreted it this way. In doing so, the authorities found a pretext to push me and other women out of the judiciary and degrade us to officials. "


After she was removed from the judiciary, Ebadi worked as a lawyer and was particularly committed to the rights of women and children – two very vulnerable groups in Iran. "I also defended some leaders of the Bahai movement, a monotheistic sect founded in 1800th century Iran and having a few hundred thousand members. Iran has forbidden them to study at universities, and they had started their own university. Some of their leaders were imprisoned, accused of being spies. I was the only one who dared to defend them. "

Ebadi received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work for human rights, but the Iranian authorities continued to harass her. Her husband, Javad Tavassolian, was photographed with a prostitute working for the government, who then pushed him to distance himself from his wife in a national television program. Tavassolian did as he was asked, and Ebadi saw no other escape than to flee the country. She settled in London and has not yet returned to Iran. Her house was looted and the Nobel medal sold at a public auction.

Fatwa and war

Ebadi was harsh in his criticism of Khomeini's rule when they issued a fatwa against author Salman Rushdie in 1988, following the publication of the book Satanic verses. Does the fatwa still apply, even though Khomeini is now dead, and former President Mohammad Khatami canceled it in 1998? "Yes, the fatwa is renewed. Khatami does not have the religious authority needed to abolish it. And I also don't feel safe enough that I want to go back to Iran. The country must become secular first. Now I pray to God that there will be no bombing or foreign intervention, because if that happens, all Iranians will forget their rightful criticism of the government and defend their country instead. " Ebadi says this happened when Saddam Hussein attacked Iran: The attack caused the people to rally around Khomeini. A war against a foreign power always causes people to forget inner contradictions.

"We need a secularization process in Iran, religion and state should not be a unity."
Shirin Ebadi

“The nuclear deal is just a game for the gallery. What Iran is doing in neighboring countries is far more important. Without Iran's support, Hezbollah could not make it in Lebanon. It is the Iranian people who pay. The same in Syria and Yemen: Iran is behind every single war, Iranian civilian guards and soldiers are involved in every war in the area. This is draining the Iranian economy. Men are sent out to war, and since women are unable to work, there is a shortage of labor in the cities. Iran ranks 140 out of 144 when it comes to the inclusion of women in working life. The women are first and foremost reproducers: they must give birth to children, no matter how well educated they are. Men can have multiple wives, while women are trapped at home. But now the young women are protesting against the regime, burning their veils and demonstrating in the streets. There are many political prisoners in Iran now. But if there is a war, the resistance and protests against the government will be quiet. The Iranians are patriots. ”

Two days after the interview with Ebadi, President Donald Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the agreement restricting Iran's investment in uranium. Israel has shot at Damascus. The war against Iran, which Ebadi warned against, seems imminent.

Ana L. Valdés
Ana L. Valdés
Valdés is a writer, anthropologist and activist.

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