Saturday, November 28, 2009

Authorities Seize Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi's Medal

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Iranian authorities have confiscated Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi's medal, the Norwegian government said today. It said Ebadi's medal was seized "within the last week or so" from a safe-deposit box in Iran along with other personal effects. Ebadi, a human rights lawyer, won the Nobel peace prize in 2003 for her efforts in promoting democracy. She has long faced harassment from the Iranian authorities for her activities – including a raid on her office last year in which files were confiscated. The seizure of the medal is an expression of the Iranian government's increasingly harsh approach to anyone it considers an opponent – particularly since the mass protests following the disputed June 12 presidential election. Ebadi was out of the country at the time of the vote and has not returned since, saying she is "in an effective state of exile." The opposition claimed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election was fraudulent. Ebadi urged the international community to reject the outcome and called for a new vote monitored by the UN. She has strongly criticized the clerical leadership's crackdown on dissent.

During the past months, hundreds of pro-reform activists have been arrested, and a mass trial has sentenced dozens to prison terms. The Norwegian foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, described the move as "shocking" and said it was "the first time a Nobel peace prize has been confiscated by national authorities". Norway's foreign ministry summoned Iran's charge d'affaires to protest and also "expressed grave concern" about Ebadi's husband, who it said was arrested in Tehran and "severely beaten", after which his pension and bank account were frozen. The Norwegian Nobel Committee's permanent secretary Geir Lundestad said the move was "unheard of" and "unacceptable". The Iranian Embassy in Norway refrained from commenting. Ebadi has represented opponents of Iran's regime before but not in the mass trial that started in August. "They say I owe them $410,000 in back taxes because of the Nobel; it's a complete lie, given that the Iranian fiscal law says that prizes are excluded," Ebadi had said earlier in New York. She said she plans to return to Iran. "Nothing frightens me any more, even if they threaten to arrest me for fiscal evasion upon my return."