1325 PeaceWomen
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"My happiness is the happiness of the people I defend when they are freed from prison"
IRAN, 1947

Iranian lawyer and human rights activist. She received her Law degree from the University of Tehran and was president of the Tehran City Court from 1975 to 1979., in addition to being one of the first female judges in Iran. In 2003 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote democracy and human rights, making her the first Iranian citizen and first Muslim woman to receive this prize.

Shirin Ebadi was born in the north of Iran. Her father was a law professor and she has had a strong sense of justice since childhood. It was this that led her to choose law as her field of study and between 1975 and 1979 she presided over the Tehran City Court and was one of the first female judges in Iran. She says, “I have always believed that law must serve justice and, when it fails to do so, I try to find ways to make sure that the law brings us closer to justice.”

Shirin has dedicated a part of her life to this cause. As a lawyer, she has defended political prisoners and taken on controversial cases like the defense of the families of writers and intellectuals who were assassinated by the Ayatollah regime. She established the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPRC) and, with the help of a group of lawyers, she offers free legal services to political defendants and others who have been imprisoned for ideological reasons. “Everyone has the right to be defended”, she states vigorously while explaining that she is currently defending a group of people of the Baha’i faith. In Iran, the punishment for religious conversion is the death sentence. The execution of minors, stoning and other types of corporal punishment are also frequent and in contravention of the International Conventions endorsed by the Iranian government.

Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts to promote democracy and human rights and for her commitment to upholding the rights of women and children. As an Iranian woman and a Muslim, she serves as an example to women in the Islamic world in their struggle for equal rights. Shirin defines herself as a feminist and an Islamist, an independent woman who has refused to be bound by the limits of the Iranian theocratic regime.  She is also a woman who, in spite of all she has done, has found the time to teach her daughters to be independent and to survive the hostilities of the regime. She warns that, “The future of many young Iranians has been confined behind the walls of a prison.”

The success of her work has been unable to halt the regime’s repression.  She often receives anonymous threatening letters and has been imprisoned and suspended from practicing law. In December 2008, the Iranian police closed down her Centre for the Protection of Human Rights (CPHR) as it was preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The CPHR was going to pay tribute to Taqui Rahmani, a political activist imprisoned for 17 years after the Islamic revolution. The Centre produces reports on the human rights situation in Iran that are of tremendous value considering that the Islamic Republic does not allow representatives of the UN Human Rights Office or members of other independent human rights organizations to enter the country.

“Neither threats nor criticism will silence my voice nor can they make me abandon Iran,” states Shirin Ebadi.  “I respect the laws of Iran and always act in accordance with established legal norms.” She advocates for a new interpretation of Islamic law that respects democratic values, equality of the sexes and freedom of religion and expression. She believes that politics and religion should be separated so that politicians cannot use people’s religious beliefs in the service of politics. As with any ideology, religion is open to interpretation. It is the culture of a society that decides the religion’s interpretation and constitution. For this reason, she states emphatically that, “Islam is not against democracy”. Ebadi declares herself to be against all types of extremism, both in Islam and other religions.

Shirin Ebadi is an elegant woman, who exudes hope and confidence with her unwavering gaze and self-assuredness. She explains how her courage and strength lie in the certainty that her fight for human rights is right, and of the necessity to make every effort to achieve their recognition and respect. Shirin says, “When my strength fails me, I think about my colleagues and friends in prison and I am reminded that I have no right to be tired while they are deprived of their freedom.” For this reason, she takes advantage of every second of her stay in Madrid to speak about her country, her religion and the achievements of the feminist and student movements. The tireless Rimma translates her words from Farsi to Spanish with tremendous skill, and the two seem to merge, as they call attention to the great potential of Iranian women to transform their reality. Shirin believes that change is possible but that it must come from society, from the Iranian people themselves. Such change must be peaceful and slow, but solid and lasting.

Literature can also contribute to this goal.  “I am more interested in the way the battle is waged than in whether it is won” she tells us in her book “Iran Awakening”, in which she looks back over her life experiences.  For centuries, Iranian women have relied on the written word to transform their reality.  For this reason, Shirin Ebadi continues to write: “The act of writing puts me in touch with my feelings,” she says. Shirin speaks with satisfaction about her next book “The Golden Cage”, which begins with a quote from a famous Persian philosopher: “If injustice cannot be eradicated, it must at least be made known.”  It is this principle that has guided Shirin Ebadi’s work for many years. She is tireless in her defense of people, knows how to unite, bind and weave them into networks and build bridges between opposing view points because she knows that this is the only way that their reality can be altered and the longed for freedom achieved. Iran and the rest of the world need women like Shirin Ebadi. She is like a beautiful flower that grows with stubborn determination in the hard, grey concrete of the Iranian theocracy.