Shirin Ebadi: “We are being taken hostage by the regime”
Published in “Nürnberger Zeitung”, October 6, 2009
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi interviewed by Nürnberger Zeitung (regional newspaper published in Nuremberg, Germany)
NUREMBERG, Germany – The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2009 will be announced on Friday. In 2003 this Prize was awarded to Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi. In an interview with Nürnberger Zeitung (NZ), she gives us an account of the current situation in Iran and of how she carries on her work under the severely aggravated conditions that have been prevailing since the presidential elections.
NZ: The Nuremberg International Human Rights Award was presented this Sunday, but the prize winner was not allowed to leave his country. Do you believe that the Iranian authorities prohibited Mr Abdolfattah Soltani from leaving the country because of the award ceremony?
Ebadi: I believe that Mr Soltani would have been hindered from leaving the country in any case, since he is someone who always talks about the truth. And the government does not want the truth about the situation to come to light. Consequently, he was not supposed to be granted the opportunity to give an account of this truth abroad. Other members of our Centre for the Defence of Human Rights have also been barred from leaving the country, including the winner of an Italian human rights award, Ms Narges Mohammadi. The Iranian government takes anyone who is involved with our Centre hostage. None of these people are allowed to leave the country any more.
NZ: Can the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, which was shut down in late 2008, continue its work?
Ebadi: Despite all the problems, we are indeed continuing our work – and that is probably the reason why the government is so upset and is oppressing the people. Our new report on the state of human rights will be published on Monday. These reports always anger the government, because the United Nations quote from them. Yet, the reports are apolitical and describe nothing but the state of human rights. We do intensive research to make sure that everything is in accordance with the truth.
NZ: Can you publish this report inside Iran as well?
Ebadi: We can only pass it on within the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights. The media inside Iran are not allowed to report on it. But we try to make the report available to foreign media over the Internet.
NZ: In what way has the human rights situation changed since Mr Ahmadinejad’s alleged re-election?
Ebadi: Unfortunately, it has deteriorated. People have protested against the result. The first demonstration, in particular, which gathered one million participants, was very peaceful. Not a single glass was shattered in that demonstration. But in the end, people who were on their way home were shot at from the tops of government buildings. People were left dead and injured. In the following night a student hostel was attacked at three o’clock in the morning. Five students were killed, two of whom were female. 40 students were arrested. So far, 3,000 people have been arrested, including colleagues of ours. Some were released on bail, like Mr Soltani, while others were tortured to death in prison, like 20-year-old Mohsen Ruholamini. Others were raped – there is documentation to prove that.
NZ: How do you judge the show trials, which have even brought former members of the government before the court?
Ebadi: That was nothing but a big spectacle. Not even the defence lawyers were admitted. Confessions were extorted through extreme pressure and torture.
NZ: Do you yourself enjoy a certain degree of protection, given your high repute as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate?
Ebadi: One arrest warrant which was issued 20 days ago in conjunction with the court trials mentioned my name three times. The accusations were: working at the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, activities for the promotion of women’s rights, supporting the rights of minorities. Nevertheless, I was not arrested. They obviously think twice before they take action against me.
NZ: We do not want to compare the Nobel Peace Prize with the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award, but can receiving this award still offer Mr Soltani some protection?
Ebadi: The award is very important. It could indeed be that they will now think twice before they take any action against him. However, I am not sure if anything good will come out of it once they have given it that second though.
NZ: Did you expect such an enormous wave of protest in Iran?
Ebadi: Nobody could have predicted this wave to begin only one day after the election. But dissatisfaction among people had already been high for quite a long time. The main reasons for this are the high rate of inflation, the high rate of unemployment as well as censorship and the lack of freedom. 70 per cent of the population are under 30 years of age – and they want work and freedom, yet there is a lack of both. This lack of prospects ferments dissatisfaction. Every opportunity is now taken advantage of to express this. People are not giving up and are continuing their protest. An important thing is that Iranians living abroad have now put their differences of opinion behind them and have united, and they are now
using the same slogans as people in Iran.
NZ: Will this be successful?
Ebadi: I know that the people will triumph sooner or later. But the date cannot be predicted.
NZ: Which model of government would be most suitable for Iran?
Ebadi: The only model which would suit us is true democracy with free elections and freely elected representatives of the people, who pass laws which benefit the people.
NZ: How can the West help – and what should it take care not to do?
Ebadi: Something that would be utterly wrong would be to start a war or impose new sanctions, since this would make ordinary people suffer. The West should make sure to demand respect for human rights in Iran. For three years now, the West has been focusing its attention exclusively on the nuclear programme. Are European governments only interested in their own security? Does this entitle them to forget all about the human rights situation? Why is it, for example, that everyone knows that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma has been under house arrest for many years? And why is it that hardly anyone seems to know that Iranian grand ayatollah Ali Montazeri shares the very same fate? Could this perhaps be because Iran has oil, while Burma does not?
NZ: Iran is said to already have the capacity to build nuclear bombs. Does this surprise you?
Ebadi: In Iran, decisions are made behind closed doors. Therefore, unfortunately, I have no information on these matters. But I belong to the movement which opposes nuclear weapons. I think that Iran must listen to the United Nations and give up uranium enrichment – in order to avoid further sanctions.
NZ: For a few days now, Iran has been engaging in a policy of rapprochement, promising to enrich uranium in Russia and to allow inspections of its plant at Qom. Is this a step in the right direction?
Ebadi: It is still too early to judge that. We’ll have to wait and see whether these statements will actually be translated into action. But one thing is clear: Iran has so much sunshine and wind. So far, we have not invested a single cent in these clean and inexpensive forms of energy. Instead, we invest in . . .
NZ: In what? In nuclear energy or in weapons?
Ebadi: As I said before, I do not know whether the money is spent on nuclear energy or on developing weapons. But in any case, we ought to invest in solar energy.
Interviewers: Stephan Sohr, Stephanie Rupp, Ulrich Künzel
Translated from German by: Anusche Noring