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Shirin Ebadi winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize
Photo by AFP/Gabriel Bouys

Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi is the the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in the award's 102-year history. Ebadi, who presently lives in exile in France, was praised around the world as a courageous champion of political freedom after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded her the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize.

"There is no difference between Islam and human rights," said Ebadi. "For anyone who pursues human rights in Iran, fear is a constant threat from birth to death. I have managed to overcome that fear."

Ebadi, who also is know for her writings, was one of Iran's first female judges, serving as president of the city court of Tehran during 1975-1979, which were the doomed years of the Western-backed Iranian monarchy, overthrown by the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when she was forced to resign. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 she has been an activist for democracy and the rights of refugees, women and children.

As an attorney, she represented families of writers and intellectuals killed in 1999 and 2000, and worked to expose conspirators behind an attack by pro-clergy assailants on students at Tehran University in 1999. Ebadi, who was jailed for three weeks in 2000, has been a forceful advocate for women, children and those on the margins of society. She turned her law office into a base for rights crusades and assaults on the establishment on issues such a persecution of dissidents and now-rare punishments such as stoning and flogging for social offenses. She has taken cases dealing with domestic abuse and the rights of street children. Her writings have touched on rights for refugees, women and child laborers.

At her news conference in Paris after being awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her work promoting peaceful and democratic solutions in the struggle for human rights, Shirin Ebadi said Iran's most pressing human rights crisis is the lack of free speech, and she urged the government to immediately release prisoners jailed for expressing their opinions.

Although Iranian women serve in parliament and have far fewer limits than in other Middle Eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia, laws still impose some boundaries. An Iranian woman needs her husband's permission to work or travel abroad, and a man's court testimony is considered twice as important as that of a woman. Presently jobs such as judges and posts with the ruling inner circle are allowed for men only. The powerful Guardian Council, which supports political candidates and interprets laws, today bars women from becoming president. But that interpretation could be challenged by Ebadi's supporters if momentum builds for her candidacy to succeed President Mohammad Khatami in 2005.

Ebadi has argued for a new interpretation of Islamic law that embraces democracy and equality before the law. "The time of revolutions is finished," Ebadi was quoted in Le Monde. "The Islamic republic cannot continue if it does not evolve. Not only within the government, but in the whole country, we want reforms to be pursued in a serious and radical manner." Those reforms, she said, include ending the use of harsh Islamic punishments such as amputations and stonings and allowing free elections of legislators.

Last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, former President Jimmy Carter, called Ebadi's work "an inspiration to people in Iran and around the world."

[compiled from Yahoo!News, BBC News, Reuters, AP, AFP]
Suggested biographies - Nobel Prize Committee | Human Rights Watch

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