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Police raid rights group headed by Nobel prize winner

Latest update : 2008-12-21

Iranian police have shut down the offices of a human rights group headed by 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. Ebadi has been an active campaigner for greater rights protection, particularly for women and children.

AFP - Iranian police shut down the office of a human rights group headed by Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi on Sunday, the deputy head of the Human Rights Defenders Centre, Narges Mohammadi, told AFP.
"They have sealed off the office and are telling us to leave the premises without resistance," Mohammadi said. "Mrs Ebadi is there too. We have no choice but to leave."
She said dozens of policemen had gathered in front of the group's office in northwest Tehran and that the officials had not "shown a judicial warrant but only provided the number of a warrant."
She said policemen in uniform and plain clothes had raided the office and made an inventory of its contents.
The group had been scheduled to hold a belated celebration marking the 60th anniversary of Human Rights Day on December 10.
The closure marks a toughened crackdown on rights campaigners by the Islamic republic, which Ebadi's group accuses of "systematically violating" human rights.
"Freedom of expression and freedom of circulating information have further declined" since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to office in August 2005, the group said in its annual report in May.
"The lack of a real and effective observance of human rights deepens the gap between the people and the government and breaks the pillars of peace, stability and development in the country," it warned at the time.
On Human Rights Day, Ebadi delivered a speech in Geneva calling for non-governmental organisations to be given a greater role in the UN's Human Rights Council and other bodies.
Founded by five prominent lawyers and headed by 2003 Nobel winner Ebadi, the group is a vocal critic of the human rights situation in Iran and has defended scores of prisoners of conscience, including high profile dissidents and student activists.
The group holds frequent meetings on what it deems to be human rights violations. At one recent gathering, it renewed calls on Iran to stop executing people convicted of offences committed when they were minors.
In November, Ebadi criticised Iran's new Islamic penal code, saying it remained unfair to women and used an "incorrect" interpretation of Islam.
In April, she said she had received death threats pinned to the door of her office building, warning her to "watch your tongue."
Ahmadinejad subsequently ordered that Ebadi be protected and that the threats be investigated.
In 1974, Ebadi emerged as the first female judge in Iran, but after the 1979 Islamic revolution, the government decided that women were unfit to serve as judges.
She chose to become a lawyer and devoted herself to human rights, women and children.
Ebadi and her colleagues also represent the family of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died while in custody in 2003 after being detained for photographing a demonstration outside a Tehran prison.

Date created : 2008-12-21