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In the News
Last Updated: 10/20/2003
Nobel Peace Laureate 2003
Amisha Koria

Iranian lawyer, Shirin Edabi, is only the third Muslim to be awarded the Nobel following Yasser Arafat in 1994 and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1978 and is only the 11th woman


The Nobel Peace Laureate for 2003 is Iranian lawyer and Human Rights activist Shirin Ebadi.


The Press release issued by the Norwegian Nobel Committee ( states that Ebadi was awarded the prize “for her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children.”


It further goes on to state that the committee hopes the prize “will be an inspiration for all those who struggle for human rights and democracy in her country, in the Moslem world, and in all countries where the fight for human rights needs inspiration and support


Edabi is only the third Muslim to be awarded the prize following Yasser Arafat in 1994 and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1978 and is only the 11th woman


Shirin Ebadi was Iran's first female judge but lost her position after the 1979 Islamic revolution, which amongst other changes brought about reforms regarding the status of women in society, especially those holding high level government positions or positions in judiciary. [i]


She currently works as a lawyer and teaches at the University of Tehran. Her Human Rights Campaigns have focused on the rights of women and children and she was one of the key players in controversial cases such as the murders of writers and academics in 1999/2000 and the fatal attacks on students in a dormitory at the University of Tehran who had spoken out against the government.[ii]


As a result of her actions in this case and exposing official involvement in the latter of the attacks Ebadi was jailed for several weeks and banned from practicing law for a number of years. She has also been actively involved in a number of human rights organisations in Iran, founding the Society for the Protection of the rights of Children and also the centre for the defence of human rights. [iii]

The committee’s decision to award Edabi the prize has met with mixed reactions.

Many feel that the Norwegian politicians press release that highlights the human rights struggle especially in the Muslim world can be viewed as the western worlds continued battle to democratise extremist Muslim states.

Iranian opinion has been mixed. Those also involved in the fight against the more extreme Islamic policies took Edabi´s prize as a victory for all those fighting for change.

Following her return to Tehran after a visit to France she received a hero’s welcome at the airport. Met by NGO´s and human rights activists she called for the Iranian government to allow greater freedom of speech and the release of political prisoners.

One Arabic website ( puts Edabi at the forefront of the new progressive Islamic movement that calls for “inclusiveness and tolerance that also rejects the Bush’s militarism as much as the authoritarianism of religious ideologues.” She told a news conference that “the fight for human rights is conducted in Iran by the Iranian people and we are against any foreign intervention in ran.”

However also inside Iran the majority of the press which is controlled by clerical factions were more critical of the award. 'This prize carries the message that Europe intends to put further pressure on human rights issues in Iran, a political move as part of its pursuit of its own particular ends,'[iv]

Nevertheless, reformist government opinion was expressed by Vice-president Mohammad Ali Abhati who said the prize was “very good news for every Iranian' and witness to the important part played by women.”


Others, around the world, feel that Edabi has not deserved the prize and that the 2003 award should have gone to Pope John Paul II, for instance. Former Polish president and 1983 peace laureate Lech Walesa said “I have nothing against this lady, but if there is anyone alive who deserves this year's Nobel Peace Prize it is the Holy Father." [v]


Amongst the current causes Edabi is fighting for are:

·        The difference in punishments a father will receive over assisting an abortion of his unborn child and if he kills the same child at the age of 14. The first is currently met with a harsh, corrective  punishment whilst the latter only warrants a monentary fine.

·        Children under the age of 15 being prosecuted as adults but not receiving the same rights as an adult such as the freedom to travel abroad without parental consent.

·        And lastly child marriages, which are contrary to the international human rights treaties that Iran has signed.

·        One of her first post-Nobel challenges Ebadi has taken aboard the case of Stephan the son of Iranian/ Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi. Zahra Kazemi was arrested after taking photos of a Tehran prison. She was then interrogated for 3 days and died from severe head injuries.