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Malaysia bans Nobel laureate from speaking

Shirin Ebadi (© Shahram Sharif; source:
KUALA LUMPUR, 10 Oct 2008: The Foreign Ministry has instructed local organisers of a dialogue on peace to withdraw their invitation to Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi.

The ministry said it was “unwise” to invite Ebadi to speak because she is seen by the Iranian government as promoting a “Western agenda”. The ministry also cited “preserving good bilateral relations with Iran” as a reason to withdraw the invitation.

Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist, was the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

The ministry informed Universiti Malaya, one of the organisers, about its decision in a letter dated 10 Sept 2008 that was made available to The Nut Graph.

The other organisers of the Bridges — Dialogues towards a Culture of Peace forum are the International Islamic University of Malaysia (UIA) and the Asian Strategic Leadership Institute (Asli).

Ebadi’s office informed The Nut Graph that the forum, which is a programme of the Bangkok-based International Peace Foundation, had earlier been vetted by the relevant authorities without objection.

In a 25 Sept e-mail to the foundation, Ebadi’s assistant wrote: “Although you have sent an invitation to our office about one year ago and were in touch with us during this time, you have cancelled [our invitation to] Malaysia under pressure from the Iranian government. So Ms Ebadi will not [be visiting either Malaysia or Thailand] and will not participate in any of your events.”

This restriction on Ebadi has already been picked up by Rooz, a Farsi and English news website.

Threats to Ebadi

Ebadi, a notable human rights advocate, faces threats, and hostility from the media and government of Iran, for her work.

The Islamic Republic News Agency (Irna) of Iran has attacked Ebadi for defending the rights of seven followers of the minority Baha’i religion, while her daughter was accused of apostasy. The penalty for apostasy in Iran is death.

Ebadi subsequently filed a libel suit against Irna. In response to the hostility, on 26 Aug 2008, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran urged the government to ensure her safety.

Earlier that year, on 14 April, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders urged the public to pressure the Iranian government to ensure Ebadi’s safety. This was in response to a death threat she received in a letter to her office on 5 April.

The Bridges programme presents a series of talks by Nobel laureates, from November 2008 to April 2009, in Malaysia and Thailand. The programme will be launched in Kuala Lumpur on 22 Oct.

Among the other invited speakers are Timor-Leste President Prof Jose-Ramos Horta, who is the 1996 Nobel Peace laureate; Rev Jesse Louis Jackson, former assistant to Dr Martin Luther King; and Prof Robert Fry Engle III, the 2003 laureate for economics.

The Nut Graph was unable to contact Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor Datuk Rafiah Salim and International Peace Foundation chair Uwe Morawetz. The Foreign Ministry, which was contacted on 9 Oct, has yet to respond.

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