Shirin Ebadi: From Gender-based Demotion to Nobel Peace Prize

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 31 March 2009
Shirin Ebadi was born in the city of Hamedan [northwestern Iran] in 1947. Her family were academics and practising Muslims. Her father, Mohammad Ali Ebadi, was the city’s chief notary public and professor of commercial law. Shirin has two sisters and a brother all of whom are highly educated because, in her words ” her mother dedicated all her time and devotion to our upbringing”.

Shirin Ebadi came to Tehran with her family when she was one year old and has since been a resident in the capital. She began her education at Firuzkuhi primary school, went on to Anoshiravn Dadgar and Reza Shah Kabir secondary schools for my higher education; sat for the Tehran University entrance exams and gained a place at the Faculty of Law in 1965. Shirin received her law degree in three-and-a-half years, and immediately sat for the entrance exams for the Department of Justice. After a six-month apprenticeship in adjudication, she began to serve officially as a judge in March 1969. While serving as a judge, Shirin continued her education and obtained a doctorate with honours in private law from Tehran University in 1971.

Shirin held a variety of positions in the Justice Department. In 1975, she became the President of Bench 24 of the [Tehran] City Court. Indeed, Shirin Ebadi is the first woman in the history of Iranian justice to have served as a judge. Following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in February 1979, since the belief was that Islam forbids women to serve as judges, she and other female judges were dismissed from their posts and given clerical duties. They made her a clerk in the very court she once presided over. The demoted female judges are protestes. As a result, the Junta promoted all former female judges, including Shirin, to the position of “experts” in the Justice Department. She could not tolerate the situation any longer, and so, put in a request for early retirement. Shirin’s request was accepted. Since the Bar Association had remained closed for some time since the revolution and was being managed by the Judiciary,her application for practising law was turned down. She was, in effect, housebound for many years. Finally, in 1992 she succeeded in obtaining a lawyer’s licence and set up her own practice.

Shirin used her time of unemployment to write several books and had many articles published in Iranian journals. After receiving her lawyer’s licence she accepted to defend many cases. Some were national cases. Among them, she represented the families of the serial murders victims (the family of Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar) and Ezzat Ebrahiminejad, who were killed during the attack on the university dormitory.

Ebadi also represented the family of Ezzat Ebrahim-Nejad, the only person (a conscript soldier) killed in the Iranian student protests of July 1999. In the process, in 2000 Ebadi was accused of distributing the videotaped confession of Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, a former member of the Ansar-e Hezbollah. Ebrahimi accused his former associates of attacking members of President Khatami’s cabinet on orders of high-level conservative authorities. Ebadi claimed that she had only videotaped Amir Farshad Ebrahimi’s confessions in order to present them to the court. This case was named “Tape makers” by hardliners who questioned the credibility of his videotaped deposition as well as his motives. Ebadi and Rohami were sentenced to five years in jail and suspension of their law licenses for sending Ebrahimi’s videotaped deposition to Islamic President Khatami and the head of the Islamic judiciary. The sentences were later vacated by the Islamic judiciary’s supreme court, but they did not forgive Ebarahimi’s videotaped confession and sentenced him to 48 months jail, including 16 months in solitary confinement. This case brought increased focus on Iran from human rights groups abroad.
Shirin also participated in some press-related cases. Mostly, Shirin took on a large number of social cases, too, including child abuse. She is popularly known for taking up cases of pro-western liberal and dissident figures who have fallen foul of the judiciary.

On October 10, 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous efforts for democracy and human rights, especially for the rights of women and children. The selection committee praised her as a “courageous person” who “has never heeded the threat to her own safety”. Now she travels abroad lecturing in the West. She is against a policy of forced regime change.

Some of the other prizes and accolades she has won include: An official Human Rights Watch observer, 1996; The selection of The Rights of the Child as Book of the Year by the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry; Recipient of the Rafto Human Rights Foundation prize for human rights activities, Norway 2001, among others.

Shirin is married; her husband is an electrical engineer and they have two daughters.

Now at the age of 62, Shirin Ebadi’s life is in more danger than ever. A sentence for “death” has recently been written by vandals on the walls outside her home and office in Tehran and pinned on her door. But the fearless Iranian human rights lawyer has a deep conviction that, “When you believe in the correctness of your work, there is no reason to be afraid of anything.”

What a rare show of bravery! We doff our cap for this woman of great courage!


WordPress theme developer - whois: Andy White London