Washington, DC – The headquarters of Shirin Ebadi’s Center for the Defense of Human Rights was shut down on December 21 by Iranian authorities just hours prior to a commemoration ceremony for the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was the third attempt in 11 days by Iranian authorities to close the center. On December 29, authorities raided and confiscated Ebadi’s confidential legal documents and computer from the headquarter, alleging tax evasion and operating without a legal permit. Mrs. Ebadi has worked pro bono for the last 15 years.
In 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her legal work advocating the promotion of democracy and human rights.
Authorities justify the raid by accusing the center of writing letters to international organizations and supplying information about human rights violations in Iran to the United Nations without approval from the Iranian government. The information was used by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a report in October urging President Ahmadinejad to take action against human rights violations such as “amputations and corporal punishment.”
Three days after the raid, members of the Basiji Militia, an Iranian paramilitary force under the Passdaran Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) demonstrated outside the home and office of Mrs. Ebadi. The hard-line group denounced Mrs. Ebadi as a “pen pushing mercenary” for not sufficiently condemning Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
On December 27, Ebadi issued a statement condemning the Israeli operation for its killing of children.
Human rights defenders believe hard-liners are taking advantage of Israel’s assault on Gaza as a pretense to stymie human rights defenders with the advent of the Iranian presidential election. According to Iranian human rights lawyer Khalil Bahramian, “Gaza has provided [Iranian authorities] the chance to wash away human rights issues.”
For her part, the Nobel laureate has refused to leave Iran. Ebadi has stated: “I can only say that until I am alive I shall not leave the country under any circumstances. I am an Iranian and must live, work and die in Iran.”
On Saturday, the spokesperson of Mr. Ki-moon issued a statement speaking out against the treatment of Ebadi and calling on the Iranians to ensure Ebadi’s safety and prevent further harassment.
The International Campaign for Human Rights likewise criticized the treatment of Mrs. Ebadi. Hadi Ghaemi, coordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran stated: “It is absolutely unacceptable that Dr. Ebadi is being threatened because she had legitimate interactions with UN officials. As a member state, Iran has every obligation to facilitate such interactions and to ensure Ebadi’s safety.”
According to Iranian-American journalist Azadeh Moaveni, some analysts argue hard-liners are provoking Shirin Ebadi to prompt her to call for a boycott of the upcoming June elections. Ebadi’s call for a boycott of the 2005 elections is believed to have contributed to Ahmadinejad’s victory by decreasing voter turnout in the larger cities.
“Iranian Americans are extremely concerned about Shirin Ebadi and other defenders’ safety,” said NIAC President Trita Parsi. “Which human rights defenders can feel safe when a Noble laureate is being threatened and harassed?”