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Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi speaks out against Iran sanctions

Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian to win a Nobel Peace Prize, also spoke with the Monitor about her fight for human rights in Iran and challenged the supreme leader's role.

By Roshanak TaghaviCorrespondent / April 17, 2012

Nobel Laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi speaks at a news conference at the United Nations office in Tehran, Iran, in this April 2006 file photo.

Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters/File



"If you can't eliminate injustice, at least tell everyone about it." 

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Nobel Laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi begins her book, The Golden Cage: Three Brothers, Three Choices, One Destiny, with this famous quote from Iranian sociologist Ali Shariati. 

It is also how Ms. Ebadi has chosen to live her life, even if it means self-imposed exile.

“In Iran, human rights activists are either in prison or they are incommunicado, meaning no one can talk to them and it's basically impossible for them to have any activity. Unfortunately at the present time, a lot of people ... are afraid to talk. This is why I've remained outside Iran, and work for Iran from where I am,” says Ebadi, who moved to London after Iran's contested 2009 presidential elections. “If something happens in the world, it has to be told so that others will find out about it. It must be known by the world.”

Ebadi, a prominent critic of the Iranian regime, has lived abroad ever since accusations of fraud in the 2009 prompted unprecedented dissent, and the government cracked down hard.

But despite her animosity towards Iran's government, the Iranian human rights lawyer and activist says that the harsh economic sanctions currently imposed against Iran have been misguided. Intended to pressure Tehran into making concessions on its controversial nuclear program, the sanctions are achieving more harm than good and failing to weaken the Iranian regime, according to the Nobel laureate.

“I do not agree with sanctions that hurt people,” says Ebadi in a phone interview a day after April 14 talks between Tehran and the international powers known as P5+1 about Iran's nuclear program.

Though talks ended on a positive note, with negotiations slated to continue in Baghdad on May 23, Ms. Ebadi claims it's too quick to predict if and how Iran's nuclear negotiators will ultimately follow through.

“We have to see what the results are. Up to today, they've always used negotiations to buy time. In this regard, we have to wait for the second round of negotiations.”

No. 2 country for capital punishment; crackdown on dissent

But while the bulk of international attention on Iran is focused on its nuclear program, human rights violations in the Islamic Republic often go relatively unnoticed.

In 2011, Iran executed more than 360 people, making it the No. 2 country for capital punishment after China, with nearly nine times more executions than the US, according to the Guardian.

Since Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election, the Iranian government has engaged in a broad crackdown on journalists, political opposition figures, activists, and students. As of late 2011, 49 journalists and bloggers remained in prison, and lawyers seeking to represent rights activists have faced mounting pressure from security authorities, with a number of prominent lawyers currently facing stiff prison sentences or long-term bans from practicing law, according to a 2012 Human Rights Watch report.

Three of those lawyers – currently imprisoned on charges of acting against national security – cofounded the now-banned Defenders of Human Rights Center with Ebadi.


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