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Malaysian universities not keen to invite Shirin Ebadi

KUALA LUMPUR, 11 Dec 2008: Malaysia might miss its chance to hear the first Muslim woman Nobel Peace laureate speak.

None of the Malaysian universities appear keen to invite Shirin Ebadi, despite the Foreign Ministry retracting its ban on the Iranian lawyer and human rights activist from speaking here.

Ebadi was to deliver a keynote address on “Islam and Cultural Diversity” at Universiti Malaya (UM) on 3 Nov 2008 as part of the Bridges – Dialogues towards a Culture of Peace, a series of talks by Nobel laureates from November 2008 to April 2009 in Malaysia and Thailand.

But the Foreign Ministry in a letter to UM dated 10 Sept 2008 warned against the invitation after arrangements were made, citing the need to “preserve good bilateral relations with Iran” as Ebadi was deemed by the Iranian government to be promoting a “Western agenda”.

UM then withdrew the invitation based on the Foreign Ministry’s letter.

Since then, despite a retraction by Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, no local university has shown interest in re-inviting Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace prize in 2003.

Uwe Morawetz, the chairperson of the International Peace Foundation which facilitates the Bridges series, told The Nut Graph recently that despite efforts to persuade local universities to organise the dialogue and invite Ebadi, none appeared interested.

“After the minister’s retraction, we tried to re-initiate the idea with local universities. Now it’s up to them to invite her but we’ve not had anyone take up our invitation to do so.

“We have also sought a clarification from the Foreign Ministry after the minister’s statement but till today we have not received any response,” Morawetz said.

“We thought she would be a good speaker to have and we thought it’d be good for the country, but it’s not up to us, so we are not going to do anything about it anymore,” he added, stressing that it was for a local organisation to invite Ebadi as the foundation was an “outside party”.

Ebadi is often the target of hostility by the Iranian government and media for her work in defending human rights in Iran. She has faced death threats for her open stance on apostasy, which in Iran is punishable by death.

Ebadi’s office had previously told The Nut Graph that her presence at the forum had had the approval of the relevant authorities in Malaysia until the Foreign Ministry’s letter.

Protests by the Iranian embassy is said to have pressured the Malaysian government to withdraw her invitation. This marks the first time a government has stopped a Nobel laureate from speaking under the Bridges talks series, which has been held over 300 times in Thailand and the Philippines since 2003.

The purpose of the series is to foster dialogue and understanding across disciplines and fields to advance peace and global cooperation.

Nobel laureates slated to speak in the current Malaysia and Thailand series include 1996 Nobel peace laureate and Timor-Leste President Professor Jose Ramos Horta; former Foreign Affairs Minister and Vice-Chancellor of the Republic of Germany Joschka Fischer; and Rev Jesse Jackson. TNG

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