Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Shirin Ebadi at UCLA

Amanda Semaan, ASUCLA Student Media:
It's not every day that a speaker at UCLA is met with as much opposition as Shirin Ebadi was Monday night. Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace laureate, came to UCLA to speak of her new book, "Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope."

She said in Iran, the life of a woman is worth half that of a man, while the age of criminal responsibility is amazingly low. These are just some of the examples of discriminatory laws Ebadi, the first Iranian and first female Muslim to win the Nobel Peace Prize, used to introduce the state of Iran.

Ebadi spoke mainly of the country's discriminatory laws, including those against women, as well as the demand for an advanced democracy.

While most listeners applauded Ebadi, several protesters who spoke in the middle of her speech and about 15 people from different organizations protested outside the event. READ MORE

When speaking of the discriminatory laws against women – such as one that says a man can divorce his wife at any time with no justification while divorce for women is very difficult and sometimes impossible – Ebadi said it was interesting these laws were applied in a country where women are better educated than men.

Over 65 percent of university students in Iran are female, and one long-time vice president is a woman, Ebadi said.

Though the feminist movement in Iran is very strong and some laws have been amended in favor of women, there still remain many human rights violations that need attention.

"(Iranian women) will not stop until they achieve full and complete equality of rights," Ebadi said.

Also, as a result of the limited laws of freedom of expression in Iran, a number of journalists, writers and philosophers are currently imprisoned. Ebadi said she will continue wishing the release of all political prisoners in Iran.

Ebadi stressed that though she critiqued the government of Iran, a military invasion of Iran was not the way to go about establishing democracy and observance of human rights.

"The people of Iran love their country and they are not going to permit it to become a second Iraq," Ebadi said.

In regard to helping the Iranian people in their quest for more freedom and democracy, Ebadi called upon everyone to do whatever they can.

"If you're a journalist and if you have access to a press, write about the political prisoners in Iran and about the violations of human rights," Ebadi said. "If you're a doctor and you have access to medication or pharmaceuticals, help in bringing medications to Iran."

One audience member lashed out during Ebadi's speech, accusing her of being the regime's spy and of not doing enough to help the imprisoned human rights activists. He was escorted out of the room by the police, along with a few other protesters who spoke out during the event.

Donya Farmand, a fourth-year French student, said the protesters were not doing anything to help by saying she has not done enough.

"She's taking steps by coming here to educate people in L.A. As one person, what more can she do?" Farmand said. "She's asking for other people's help."

Niousha Nader, a fourth-year psychobiology student, said the protesters were not helping to solve Iran's problems.

"There's no point in opposing her when she's helping the cause," she said.

Ebadi responded to the protesters' allegations, saying she would do everything she could to release the prisoners.

"My desire is the release of all those who are in prison due to political or ideological reasons," Ebadi said.

When accused of making the situation in Iran sound better than it is, Ebadi said she was doing her best to represent Iran as accurately as possible.

"I requested that the situation in Iran be reflected exactly as it is, not worse or better than it is, so that people will know what exactly goes on in Iran and can help Iran in this regard," she said.
To read more from the Iranian opposition on Ebadi, click here and here.