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ATTACKS ESCALATE ON PROMINENT HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER

Attacks on Iran's most prominent human rights defender by the authorities raise concerns of a broader attempt to silence Iran's human rights community, say Human Rights Watch and other rights groups, as well as the United Nations.

On 21 December, Iranian security forces raided the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), a group supporting prisoners of conscience and their families based in Tehran and run by lawyer, human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. The group was prevented from celebrating the 60th anniversary the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The agents filmed the premises and guests as they arrived for the event, and confiscated journalists' cameras. In one instance, they physically attacked a member of DHRC, and took his mobile phone.

Then, on 29 December, officials identifying themselves as tax inspectors raided Ebadi's private office, confiscating her personal documents and computers, despite her protests that the materials contained protected lawyer-client information.

On 1 January, members of the student militia Baseej-e Daneshju-ee attacked Ebadi's home and accused her of Israeli bias regarding the Gaza crisis. They chanted death threats and spray-painted slogans on her house. The protest outside Ebadi's residence was supported by conservative newspapers such as "Kayhan" that have attacked Ebadi frequently in recent issues.

Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran expressed serious concern that the continuing attacks against Ebadi not only endanger her, but also put all Iranian civil society activists in peril.

"If Ebadi is not safe from official harassment, no Iranian activist can feel safe from persecution and dubious prosecution resulting from the government's distaste for peaceful activism," said Hadi Ghaemi, coordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the Iranian authorities "to take immediate measures to prevent any further harassment and to ensure Ebadi's safety and security."

Ebadi refused an offer of security from the Iranian authorities. "I can only say that... I shall ‎not leave the country under any circumstances. I am an Iranian and must live, work and ‎die in Iran," she said.

In 2003, Ebadi became the first Iranian and first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Prize, honoured for her significant and pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights, especially women's, children's, and refugee rights.

Ebadi has repeatedly been arrested and threatened with death. Last August, the official IRNA news agency alleged that her daughter had converted to the Baha'i faith, a serious accusation in a country where apostasy may be punished with death.

Iranian authorities have frequently followed office raids and other harassment with arbitrary arrests and detention, often leading to prosecutions on dubious charges. Currently, Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand, founder of the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization, is serving a 10-year prison sentence solely for his activities as a human rights defender.

Visit these links:
- Human Rights Watch: http://tinyurl.com/8cjulm
- International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran: http://www.iranhumanrights.org/
- UN: http://www.un.org/apps/sg/sgstats.asp?nid=3642
- Shirin Ebadi, "I Will Not Leave Iran": http://tinyurl.com/a5evkw
(7 January 2009)

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