Shirin Ebadi
شيرين عبادى
Ebadi in 2017
Born (1947-06-21) 21 June 1947 (age 76)[1]
Alma materUniversity of Tehran[3]
  • Lawyer
  • judge
Known forDefenders of Human Rights Center
AwardsRafto Prize (2001)
Nobel Peace Prize (2003)
JPM Interfaith Award (2004)
Legion of Honour (2006)

Shirin Ebadi (Persian: شيرين عبادى, romanizedŠirin Ebādi; born 21 June 1947) is an Iranian Nobel laureate, lawyer, writer, teacher and a former judge and founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. In 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her pioneering efforts for democracy and women's, children's, and refugee rights. She was the first Muslim woman and the first Iranian to receive the award.[4]

She has lived in exile in London since 2009.[5]

Life and early career as a judge

Ebadi was born in Hamadan into an educated Persian family. Her father, Mohammad Ali Ebadi, was the city's chief notary public and a professor of commercial law. Her mother, Minu Yamini,[6] was a homemaker. When she was an infant, her family moved to Tehran. Before earning a law degree from the University of Tehran Ebadi attended Anoshiravn Dadgar and Reza Shah Kabir schools.[7]

She was admitted to the law department of the University of Tehran in 1965 and 1969; upon graduation, she passed the qualification exams to become a judge. After a six-month internship period[inconsistent], she officially became a judge in March 1969. She continued her studies at the University of Tehran to pursue a doctorate in law; in 1971, one of her professors was Mahmoud Shehabi Khorassani. In 1975, she became the first female president of the Tehran city court and served until the Iranian Revolution.[8] She was one of the first female judges in Iran.[9][8][10]

After the 1979 Revolution women were no longer allowed to serve as judges and she was dismissed and given a new job as a clerk in the court she had presided over.[11]

Later, despite already having a law office permit her applications were repeatedly rejected, and Ebadi was unable to practice law until 1993. She used this free time to write books and many articles in Iranian periodicals.[3]

Ebadi as a lawyer

Shirin Ebadi at WSIS press conference

By 2004, Ebadi was lecturing law at the University of Tehran while practicing law in Iran.[8] She is a campaigner for strengthening the legal status of children and women, and her work on women's rights played a key role in the May 1997 landslide presidential election of the reformist Mohammad Khatami.

As a lawyer, she is known for taking up pro bono cases of dissident figures who have fallen foul of the judiciary. Among her clients were the family of Dariush Forouhar, a dissident intellectual and politician who was found stabbed to death -- along with his wife, Parvaneh Eskandari -- in their home.

The couple was among several dissidents who died in a spate of gruesome murders that terrorized Iran's intellectual community. Suspicion fell on extremist hard-liners determined to stop the more liberal climate fostered by President Khatami, who championed freedom of speech. The murders were found to be committed by a team of employees of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, whose head, Saeed Emami, allegedly committed suicide in jail before being brought to court.

Ebadi also represented the family of Ezzat Ebrahim-Nejad, who was killed in the Iranian student protests in July 1999. In 2000 Ebadi was accused of manipulating the videotaped confession of Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, a former member of the Ansar-e Hezbollah. Ebrahimi confessed his involvement in attacks by the organization on the orders of high-level conservative authorities, including the killing of Ezzat Ebrahim-Nejad and attacks against members of President Khatami's cabinet. Ebadi claimed that she had only videotaped Amir Farshad Ebrahimi's confessions to present them to the court. This case was named "Tape makers" by hardliners who questioned the credibility of his videotaped deposition and his motives. Ebadi and another lawyer, Rohami were sentenced to five years in jail and suspension of their law licenses for sending Ebrahimi's videotaped deposition to President Khatami and the head of the Islamic judiciary. The Islamic judiciary's supreme court later vacated the sentences, but they did not forgive Ebarahimi's videotaped confession and sentenced him to 48 months in jail, including 16 months in solitary confinement.[12][13][14] This case brought an increased focus on Iran from human rights groups abroad.

Ebadi has also defended various child abuse cases, including the case of Arian Golshani,[15] a child who was abused for years and then beaten to death by her father and stepbrother. This case gained international attention and caused controversy in Iran. Ebadi used this case to highlight Iran's problematic child custody laws, whereby custody of children in divorce is usually given to the father, even in the case of Arian, where her mother had told the court that the father was abusive and had begged for custody of her daughter. Ebadi also handled the case of Leila, a teenage girl who was gang-raped and murdered. Leila's family became homeless, trying to cover the costs of the execution of the perpetrators owed to the government because, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is the victim's family's responsibility to pay to restore their honor when a girl is raped by paying the government to execute the perpetrator. Ebadi was not able to achieve victory in this case. Still, she brought international attention to this problematic law.[16] Ebadi also handled a few cases dealing with bans of periodicals (including the cases of Habibollah Peyman, Abbas Marufi, and Faraj Sarkouhi). She has also established two non-governmental organizations in Iran with Western funding, the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child (SPRC) (1994) and the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) in 2001.[9][12]

She also helped in the drafting of the original text of a law against physical abuse of children, which was passed by the Iranian parliament in 2002. Female members of Parliament also asked Ebadi to draft a law explaining how a woman's right to divorce her husband is in line with Sharia (Islamic Law). Ebadi presented the bill before the government, but the male members made her leave without considering the bill, according to Ebadi's memoir.[16]

Political views

In her book Iran Awakening, Ebadi explains her political/religious views on Islam, democracy and gender equality:

In the last 23 years, from the day I was stripped of my judgeship to the years of doing battle in the revolutionary courts of Tehran, I had repeated one refrain: an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy is an authentic expression of faith. Not religion binds women, but the selective dictates of those who wish them cloistered. That belief and the conviction that change in Iran must come peacefully and from within has underpinned my work.[17]

At the same time, Ebadi expresses a nationalist love of Iran and has criticized the policies and actions of Western countries. She opposed the pro-Western Shah, initially supported the Islamic Revolution, and remembers the CIA's 1953 overthrow of prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq with rage.[18]

At a press conference shortly after the Peace Prize announcement, Ebadi explicitly rejected foreign interference in the country's affairs: "The fight for human rights is conducted in Iran by the Iranian people, and we are against any foreign intervention in Iran."[19][20]

Subsequently, Ebadi openly defended the Islamic regime's nuclear development program:

Aside from being economically justified, it has become a cause of national pride for an old nation with a glorious history. No Iranian government, regardless of its ideology or democratic credentials, would dare to stop the program.[21]

However, in a 2012 interview, Ebadi stated:

The [Iranian] people want to stop enrichment, but the government doesn't listen. Iran is situated on a fault line, and people are scared of a Fukushima type of situation happening. We want peace, security, and economic welfare, and we cannot forgo all of our other rights for nuclear energy. The government claims it is not making a bomb. But I am not a member of the government, so I cannot speak to this directly. The fear is that if they do, Israel will be wiped out. If the Iranian people are able to topple the government, this could improve the situation. [In 2009] the people of Iran rose up and were badly suppressed. Right now, Iran is the country with the most journalists in prison. This is the price people are paying.[22]

Concerning the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, in 2010, Shirin Ebadi, was one of four Peace Prize laureates supporting legislation requiring the University of California to divest itself from any companies providing technology to the Israel Defense Forces, who (bill supporters declared) were engaged in war crimes. (The legislation was supported by the Associated Students of the University of California).[23]

Since the victory of Hassan Rouhani in the 2013 Iranian presidential election, Shirin Ebadi has expressed her worry about the growing human rights violations in her homeland. Ebadi, in her Dec. 2013 speech at Human Rights Day seminar at Leiden University angrily said: "I will shut up, but the problems of Iran will not be solved".[24]

In April 2015, speaking on the subject of the Western campaign against the Sunni extremist group ISIL in Syria and Iraq, Ebadi expressed her desire that the Western world spend money funding education and an end to corruption rather than fighting with guns and bombs. She reasoned that because the Islamic State stems from an ideology based on a "wrong interpretation of Islam", the physical force will not end ISIS because it will not end its beliefs.[25]

In 2018, in an interview with Bloomberg, Ebadi stated her belief that the Islamic Republic has reached a point of which it is now un-reformable. Ebadi called for a referendum on the Islamic Republic.[26]

Nobel Peace Prize

On 10 October 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts for democracy and human rights, especially for the rights of women and children.[2] The selection committee praised her as a "courageous person" who "has never heeded the threat to her own safety".[27] Now she travels abroad lecturing in the West. She is against a policy of forced regime change.[28]

The decision of the Nobel committee surprised some observers[who?] worldwide. Pope John Paul II had been predicted to win the Peace Prize amid speculation that he was nearing death. The era of her prize was granted has been called one "when there still seemed a chance of something resembling a détente" between the U.S. and Iran (according to Associate Press).[29]

She presented a book entitled Democracy, human rights, and Islam in modern Iran: Psychological, social and cultural perspectives to the Nobel Committee. The volume documents the historical and cultural basis of democracy and human rights from Cyrus and Darius, 2,500 years ago to Mohammad Mossadeq, the prime minister of modern Iran who nationalized the oil industry.

In her acceptance speech, Ebad criticized repression in Iran and insisted that Islam was compatible with democracy, human rights and freedom of opinion.[28] In the same speech she also criticized US foreign policy, particularly the War on terrorism.[28] She was the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the prize.[9]

Thousands greeted her at the airport when she returned from Paris after receiving the news that she had won the prize. The response to the Award in Iran was mixed—enthusiastic supporters greeted her at the airport upon her return, the conservative media underplayed it, and then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami criticized it as political.[30][16] In Iran, officials of the Islamic Republic were either silent or critical of the selection of Ebadi, calling it a political act by a pro-Western institution and were also critical when Ebadi did not cover her hair at the Nobel award ceremony.[31] IRNA reported the Nobel committee's decision in few lines that the evening newspapers and the Iranian state media waited hours to report —and then only as the last item on the radio news update.[32] Reformist officials are said to have "generally welcomed the award", but "come under attack for doing so."[33] Reformist president Mohammad Khatami did not officially congratulate Ms. Ebadi and stated that although the scientific Nobels are important, the Peace Prize is "not very important" and was awarded to Ebadi on the basis of "totally political criteria".[33] Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the only official to initially congratulate Ebadi, defended the president saying "abusing the President's words about Ms. Ebadi is tantamount to abusing the prize bestowed on her for political considerations".[citation needed]

In 2009, Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, published a statement reporting that Ebadi's Nobel Peace Prize had been confiscated by Iranian authorities and that "This [was] the first time a Nobel Peace Prize ha[d] been confiscated by national authorities."[34] Iran denied the charges.[35][36]

Post-Nobel prize

UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt meeting Ebadi in London, 3 February 2011

Since receiving the Nobel Prize, Ebadi has lectured, taught and received awards in different countries, issued statements and defended people accused of political crimes in Iran. She has traveled to and spoken to audiences in India, the United States, and other countries; released her autobiography in an English translation. With five other Nobel laureates, she created the Nobel Women's Initiative to promote peace, justice, and equality for women.[3] In 2019, Ebadi called for a treaty to end violence against women, in support of Every Woman Coalition.[37]


In April 2008, she told Reuters news agency that Iran's human rights record had regressed in the past two years[38] and agreed to defend Baháʼís arrested in Iran in May 2008.

In April 2008, Ebadi released a statement saying: "Threats against my life and security and those of my family, which began some time ago, have intensified", and that the threats warned her against making speeches abroad and to stop defending Iran's persecuted Baháʼí community.[39] In August 2008, the IRNA news agency published an article attacking Ebadi's links to the Baháʼí Faith and accused her of seeking support from the West. It also criticized Ebadi for defending homosexuals, appearing without the Islamic headscarf abroad, questioning Islamic punishments, and "defending CIA agents".[40] It accused her daughter, Nargess Tavassolian, of conversion to the Baháʼí faith, a capital offense in the Islamic Republic. However Shirin Ebadi has denied it, saying, "I am proud to say that my family and I are Shiites,"[41] Her daughter believes "the government wanted to scare my mother with this scenario." Ebadi believes the attacks are in retaliation for her agreeing to defend the families of the seven Baháʼís arrested in May.[42]

In December 2008, Iranian police shut down the office of a human rights group led by her.[43] Another human rights group, Human Rights Watch, has said it was "extremely worried" about Ebadi's safety.,[44] and in December 2009 issued a statement demanding the Islamic Republic "stop harassing" her.[45] Among many other complaints, the group accused the IRI of detaining "Ebadi's husband and sister for questioning and threatened them with losing their jobs and eventual arrest if Ebadi continues her human rights advocacy."[45]


Ebadi said while in London in late November 2009 that her Nobel Peace Prize medal and diploma had been taken from their bank box alongside her Légion d'honneur and a ring she had received from Germany's association of journalists.[46] She said they had been taken by the Revolutionary Court approximately three weeks previously.[46][47][48] Ebadi also said her bank account was frozen by authorities.[46][49][50] Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre expressed his "shock and disbelief" at the incident.[46] The Iranian foreign ministry subsequently denied the confiscation, and also criticized Norway for interfering in Iran's affairs.[51][52]

Post-Nobel Prize timeline

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Shirin Ebadi during a lecture – organized by University of Amsterdam, 7 November 2011


Lawsuit against the United States

In 2004, Ebadi filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Treasury because of restrictions she faced over publishing her memoir in the United States. American trade laws prohibit writers from embargoed countries. The law also banned American literary agent Wendy Strothman from working with Ebadi. Azar Nafisi wrote a letter in support of Ebadi. Nafisi said that the law infringes on the First Amendment.[72] After a lengthy legal battle, Ebadi won and was able to publish her memoir in the United States.[73]

Other activities



Honorary degrees

Books published

See also


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Further reading

Press interviews