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Iran's Nobel Laureate Dismisses Official Motives For Raids

Shirin Ebadi at a conference in Gdansk, Poland, in early December

Iranian rights lawyer and Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi has defended herself against raids and accusations by government authorities targeting her and the rights group she helped launch nearly a decade ago.

Officials claiming to be tax authorities raided Ebadi's law office on December 29, roughly one week after officials closed down the Defenders of Human Rights Center, of which Ebadi is a founding member.

In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Ebadi said officials in the latest raid "entered in an illegal manner" and confiscated computers as well as confidential papers relating to her legal work -- a violation of Iranian laws restricting tax authorities' right of seizure to financial documents, she stressed.

"Lawyers' offices, like doctors', are confidential places -- lawyers are responsible for keeping the information regarding their clients confidential," Ebadi told Radio Farda. "I'm sure my clients, who face political and security problems, are not eager to see their confidential [files] in the hands of tax -- or rather, security -- officials."

'No Wrongdoing'

Ebadi became Iran's first-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2003 for her work defending democracy and human rights, particularly "the struggle for the rights of women and children" in the words of the selection committee.

In her Radio Farda interview, Ebadi dismissed any suggestion of financial wrongdoing, saying that she had filed the appropriate documents along with her annual paperwork required of practicing lawyers in Iran.

The former judge also criticized authorities' closure of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, which she said "is not required to register" under Iranian law but successfully applied for a license from the Interior Minister when it was established roughly eight years ago.

She noted that the same semiofficial news agency that cited authorities' allegations of "illegal" activities by the Defenders of Human Rights Center in December, Mehr, was among the outlets that had previously reported the center's official registration.

Tehran Under Scrutiny

Ebadi, whose frequent appearances abroad draw considerable media attention, sugggested that critics at home are keen to block her center's efforts to produce "unbiased, fair" assessments of the rights situation in Iran since her government stopped inviting UN rights representatives into the country several years ago.

Two UN experts on human rights issues in late November expressed "deep concern" over the Iranian government's "increasingly severe crackdown on advocates of the rights of women in recent years."

Ebadi noted that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the wider UN membership had also criticized Tehran in the days leading up to the raid for rights abuses.

"They came to the [Defenders of Human Rights Center] and closed it under the pretext of a license [violation]," Ebadi said. "I think that when they didn't find the documents they needed and were looking for, they came to my [law] office to search for those documents they hoped in their imagination to find against me."

She continued: "I must say that they will never find anything [demonstrating any wrongdoing] -- either from my office or from any other lawyer who works with us."

Ebadi also used a UN forum in Geneva on UN-sanctioned Human Rights Day, December 10, to condemn hard-liners in power in some Muslim countries and rulers of the world's remaining communist states as abusers of human rights. She said Muslim dictatorships use religion to underpin their own power.

EU Anger Over Ebadi Treatment

France, acting in the name of the European Union at the conclusion of its six-month EU presidency, has announced that it had summoned Iran's ambassador to Paris to protest the treatment of Ebadi, according to Reuters.

The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Iran had made "unacceptable threats" to Ebadi and her colleagues, without giving further details.

"The European Presidency reminded the Iranian ambassador that the Iranian authorities are responsible for Madame Ebadi's security, which is causing real concern within the European Union," Reuters quoted the statement as saying.

It further called on Iran to reopen Ebadi's Defenders Of Human Rights Center and give it proper legal status.

compiled from Radio Farda and RFE/RL reports

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