Shirin Ebadi, age 56, has fought for women's rights, children's rights and human
rights for years, defending political activists and other human
rights lawyers. Ebadi was Iran's first woman judge before the
1979 Islamic revolution -- at which point she was fired by the
mullahs. As a lawyer, writer and part-time lecturer at Tehran
University, she has argued that there is no contradiction between
Islam and human rights. She has been previously jailed for her
defense of political activists. Currently Shirin Ebadi has taken
on the case of Zahra Kazemi, the Canadian journalist murdered
Shirin Ebadi featured in a FRONTLINE/World
interview Nov. 2003.
Shirin Ebadi was interviewed for FRONTLINE/World in
Tehran on November 22, 2003. In this interview, Ebadi is circumscribed
in what she can say. Unlike the secret interviews with activists
in "Forbidden Iran" (the tapes of which were smuggled out of
the country), the following interview was conducted semi-officially
-- with the tape open to scrutiny before it left Iran. This
meant Ebadi could be prosecuted for any statement she made in
the interview that could be deemed to be subversive. The Western
journalist who conducted the interview declined to be named,
fearing recrimination from the Iranian authorities.
What do you think the awarding of this Nobel Peace Prize
says to the world about the situation in Iran?
This award sends out various messages. Firstly, that Islam
is not a religion of terror and violence. Moreover, for many
years, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived next to one another
in peace and harmony. There is no reason for them to be in war
and conflict against one another. ... The concept of the "clash
of civilizations" is not right. We need to talk about the parallelism
and bonds of harmony that exist amongst the various religions
and civilizations, not their respective divergence. One other
message that it sends is that the world holds the struggles
of the Muslim women for freedom in great esteem.
Seventy percent of the Iranian population is below the
age of 30. What does this mean for the future of Iran?
Because of our youthful population, we suffer from unemployment
in Iran. We need more universities and more job opportunities
for the young. It is natural that in a young society there are
various problems such as addiction. Unfortunately, because of
our proximity to Afghanistan, the problem of drugs in our society
is very serious.
Why do you think the students are prepared to sacrifice
their freedom and safety to protest against the government?
The younger generation is essentially idealistic. This applies
to the Iranian youth as well. In addition, the youth in Iran
face certain difficulties ... the Iranian youth need more freedom.
They are struggling for more freedom and democracy. This commands
About Zahra Kazemi -- were you surprised when you heard
the news [of her detention and murder]?
I was both surprised and upset.
Have you heard how she died? Have you seen any reports?
The court has yet to be convened. The court has not given
us access to review the file. Article 90 Commission of the Majles
(Parliament) has issued its report regarding this murder, which
What does her death say about the current state of the
country? Is it an isolated case or does it have wider implications?
Unfortunately, Mrs. Zahra Kazemi's death was caused by the
heedless disregard for Iranian law. When there are individuals
or groups who consider themselves above the law, incidents such
as this will occur. In the case that we will present, in addition
to asking for the punishment of the murderer, in view of the
public's knowledge of what happened, I will try to ensure that
there will not be another Zahra Kazemi.
Now that you are involved with her family, what are you
doing to pursue her case?
I will try to present my winning cards in court.
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Links Related to This Interview
Read the Nobel committee's announcement selecting Ebadi for
the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize as well as her acceptance speech
and a brief biography.
This feature by BBC News details Ebadi's work as a human rights
activist and a key figure in the reform movement in Iran. (BBC
News, Oct. 10, 2003)
Follow developments in the Zahra Kazemi case on this timeline
produced by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Quick facts on
Kazemi also are included.
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