Iranian human rights activist sees increased government repression

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(Host) 2003 Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi has never been a favorite of the authorities in her country. But in the past six weeks she’s come under increasing pressure from both the government and its supporters.

VPR’s Steve Zind was in Iran this month and talked with the human rights activist about her latest troubles, which she says represent an increase in government repression.

(Zind) The 61-year-old Ebadi is accustomed to periodic threats from conservative elements in Iran and summonses from government officials. But recently these events have taken on an unsettling regularity.

In December, a human rights center Ebadi helped found was shut down. Ten days later her own law offices were raided by authorities who seized computers with confidential information about her clients.

Then when fighting broke out in Gaza this month, demonstrators appeared at Ebadi’s office protesting that she hadn’t condemned Israel’s actions forcefully enough. The young men spray painted slogans like "America witch" on the walls of the building where Ebadi lives and works.

(Ebadi) "And when I called the police to come and help me, they just came and stared at them. It’s interesting that the president says, ‘if Ebadi wants, we will have the police protect her.’ Do they want the police who came and didn’t do anything to protect me?"

(Zind) Ebadi says the center she co-founded was shut down a short while after information it had gathered was cited by the United Nations in a report on human rights violations in Iran.

The computers authorities took from her law office contain information about the many people she defends – from activists to academics.
She says during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the human rights situation has become worse, after some improvement in previous years.

She says there’s been an increase in the number of arrests of government critics, including women, students and workers. She also cites Iran’s execution of juvenile offenders, and the use of stoning, which is barred under international law.

(Ebadi) "Ten days ago they stoned two people to death in Mashad.

(Zind) Ebadi says human rights activists in Iran are under increasing pressure because the government fears a velvet revolution.

(Ebadi) "This term Velvet Revolution, simply means peaceful change within the system." she says.

Ebadi says efforts by the U.S. government to support and fund human rights organizations in Iran won’t work because they provide the government there with an excuse to crack down on these groups.

She believes pressure from the international community and discussion of human rights in any negotiations with Iran will help improve the situation in her country.

For VPR News, I’m Steve Zind.


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