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Iranian Nobel Laureate Urges Armenia To Release 'Political Prisoners'

Shirin Ebadi (speaking) takes part in the FIDH conference in Yerevan.
Shirin Ebadi (speaking) takes part in the FIDH conference in Yerevan.
Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi says she hopes Armenian officials will listen to international human rights activists pleas and release a dozen jailed opposition activists, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Ebadi spoke to RFE/RL on April 7 following a visit to a Yerevan prison and its hospital. She said she is glad the Armenian authorities kept their promise -- given to her personally by President Serzh Sarkisian on April 6 -- to allow her to visit the prison.

However, Ebadi said she could not meet the prisoners in their cells or prison hospital inmates within the medical premises of the hospital, and instead saw them in special visitor rooms. She said such meetings kept her from seeing what conditions the prisoners live in.

Ebadi was in Yerevan for a two-day conference by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) that was attended by some 300 rights activists from around the world.

She also was among a group of international activists who attended the rally of the main opposition Armenian National Congress on April 6. The rally, which was organized by the alliance led by opposition leader and former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, focused on the issue of people the opposition considers political prisoners.

Opposition parties say at least a dozen of their leaders and activists are political prisoners. Officials deny holding any political prisoners and say those opposition activists who are in prison were convicted because they broke the law.

But Ebadi, like other delegates from the FIDH conference, described the imprisoned oppositionists as political prisoners when they addressed the opposition rally.

Ebadi dismissed suggestions by journalists that hosting the FIDH conference in Yerevan would send the wrong message about Armenia's human rights record.

"When the FIDH decided to hold its meeting in [Armenia], your country enjoyed a better situation than the other countries in the region," she said. "When we decided to hold our meeting here, we didn't say or believe there are no human rights violations here."

A lawyer and former judge, Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Iran.

"There are numerous journalists who are in prison in Iran right now," Ebadi added. "We cannot hold meetings like this in my country."