- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi appealed Monday for the Iranian government to respect human rights and encouraged the U.S. government and private groups to reach out to Iranians despite the arrests of activists who have met with Americans.

She spoke as the State Department disclosed that a U.S. women’s badminton team will travel to Tehran this week to participate in an international tournament.

Thirty years after the Iranian revolution, Ms. Ebadi, whose Tehran rights center was shut down by the government in December, said the human rights situation in Iran was bad before the revolution, when the country was ruled by a dictatorial shah, and bad now.

“Bad is bad,” she told a packed audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Human rights are universal. … What we want is the application of the international obligations of the government of Iran.”

Ms. Ebadi, 61, in 2003 became the first Muslim woman to win the peace prize. A judge before the revolution, she was forced to give up her post after 1979 and turned to defending the rights of women, children and religious minorities who face discrimination under Iran’s Islamic system.

The fault is not Islam, she said, but the way it has been interpreted in Iran.

“Religion has to be interpreted such that human rights can be applied,” she said. “You don’t find any religion that says that people can be murdered or tortured. All religions say people are created equal.”

Ms. Ebadi said U.S.-Iran contacts should continue despite the arrests of Iranians who have participated in conferences with Americans about subjects as nonpolitical as the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Iran recently sentenced AIDS doctors Kamiar Alaei and Arash Alaei to three and six years in prison, respectively, on charges of trying to foment a so-called velvet revolution.

Americans participating in exchanges have also been harassed. Iranian security officials interrogated Glenn Schweitzer, head of the Eurasia program of the National Academies of Science, for nine hours in Tehran in December before allowing him to catch his plane home.

Ms. Ebadi said there should be three levels of dialogue between the U.S. and Iran, which have not had diplomatic relations since 1980: people to people; president to president; and parliament to parliament.

President Obama, who while campaigning promised to seek direct talks with Iran, has not made clear at what level he will try to engage the Tehran government.

Briefly jailed in 2000 for representing the relatives of intellectuals killed by regime vigilantes in the mid-1990s, Ms. Ebadi has faced new pressures in recent months.

In December, government-organized protesters demonstrated outside her home and office in Tehran, chanted death threats against her and accused her of supporting U.S. and Israeli “crimes” in Gaza.

Despite the harassment, she said Monday that she would return to Tehran as scheduled on Friday.

“I’m an Iranian,” she said. “I was born in Iran, I was raised in Iran, I work in Iran, and I will die in Iran.”

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