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IRAN - Forbidden Iran, January 2004

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Synopsis of "Forbidden Iran"

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Nobel Prize Winner

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Interview With Iranian Nobel Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi featured in a FRONTLINE/World interview Nov. 2003.
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 in Iran.

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 great respect.

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 is significant.

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

The Nobel Foundation
Read the Nobel committee's announcement selecting Ebadi for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize as well as her acceptance speech and a brief biography.

Profile: Shirin Ebadi
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)

Indepth: Zahra Kazemi
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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