Iranian Woman Lawyer Ebadi Wins Nobel Peace Prize
By Alister Doyle
OSLO (Reuters) - Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi became the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for a fearless defense of human rights in an award designed to spur wider democracy in the Islamic world.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Ebadi -- Iran's first female judge before the 1979 Islamic revolution forced her to step down in favor of men -- for battling to defend the rights of women and children.
Ebadi, 56, won from a record field of 165 candidates including Pope John Paul and ex-Czech President Vaclav Havel. Many hailed the award but former Polish President Lech Walesa, the 1983 Nobel winner, said the Polish pope should have won.
The five-member committee said Ebadi, jailed several times during her career and once branded a threat to the Islamic system, was a "sound professional" and a "courageous person" who had "never heeded threats to her own safety."
"We hope that the prize will be an inspiration for all those who struggle for human rights and democracy in her country, in the Muslim world, and in all countries where the fight for human rights needs inspiration and support," the committee said.
"This prize gives me the energy to continue my fight," Ebadi told a news conference in Paris without the headscarf required under Islamic law. She said she would go to Oslo to receive the $1.3 million prize at the traditional December 10 ceremony.
"It's a great honor to receive this prize. It's not because you're a Muslim that you can't respect human rights, so all real Muslims should be really happy with this prize," she said.
11TH WOMAN, THIRD MUSLIM
Ebadi is the 11th woman to win since the Nobel prize was founded in 1901, the first Muslim woman laureate and the third Muslim winner -- after Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in 1994 and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1978.
Iranian state media reported the award without comment, and reaction otherwise reflected the split between President Mohammad Khatami's reformist government and powerful hard-liners.
"This prize carries the message that Europe intends to put further pressure on human rights issues in Iran as a political move to achieve its particular objectives," Amir Mohebian, an editor of the hardline Resalat newspaper, told Reuters.
But Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a leading reformist, said the award was "very good news for every Iranian" and a sign of the active role played by Iranian women in politics.
Ebadi said she opposed any outside intervention in Iran. "I'm against any foreign intervention in Iranian affairs. People of the country have to fight for human rights in our own country," she said.
Nobel watchers say the committee has wanted to promote the cause of moderate Muslims since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States to try to avert a gulf of religious intolerance after U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Iran was once branded part of an "axis of evil" by President Bush with pre-war Iraq and North Korea.
A prize to the ailing pope or to Havel could have been too much like a long-service award when Alfred Nobel, the Swedish founder of the awards, said he wanted to inspire "dreamers."
Many researchers say that the pope's opposition to birth control, pre-marital sex, homosexuality and female priests seemed intolerant to many Norwegians, especially women, despite a 25-year-reign devoted to peace and religious reconciliation.
Three of the five Nobel committee members are women. One Vatican official sniffed: "I thought this was a peace prize and not a prize in sexual ethics."
French President Jacques Chirac, on a visit to Morocco, said it was "a good choice, an exceptional choice" that rewarded "a life entirely dedicated to the defense of democracy."
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Ebadi was "an inspiration for her region more than ever and for the rest of the world."
Walesa slammed the committee for passing over the pope. "I have nothing against this lady, but if there is anyone alive who deserves this year's Nobel Peace Prize it is the Holy Father," he said.
Ebadi had often defended controversial causes. In 2000, she was given a suspended sentence after a court convicted her and another human rights lawyer of producing a video tape alleging that prominent conservatives supported activities of violent vigilantes.
No Iranian had previously won the prize. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter won in 2002, and the United Nations and Secretary-General Kofi Annan won in 2001.
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