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Nobel laureate banned after Iranian embassy protest

KUALA LUMPUR, 23 Oct 2008: The International Peace Foundation has never had its speakers banned from speaking in a country until the Malaysian government barred a Nobel laureate here.

Shirin Ebadi (Courtesy of the International Peace
The foundation is behind the Bridges – Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace programme here and in Thailand from November 2008 to April 2009, during which Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi was scheduled to speak.

However, the Foreign Ministry told one of the local organisers, Universiti Malaya, to withdraw Ebadi’s invitation.

Foundation chairperson Uwe Morawetz said when it was proposed one and a half years ago, there were no objections to Ebadi’s participation.

“But her invitation was withdrawn after protests by the Iranian embassy,” Morawetz said yesterday when launching the Malaysian series of Bridges here.

He said this was the first time the foundation had encountered such action from a government for its Bridges programme. Bridges has previously hosted more than 300 events in Thailand since November 2003 and the Philippines since November 2007.

Tun Musa Hitam, the Malaysian chairperson of Bridges, was also surprised to learn about the ban on Ebadi, saying he only found out about it during the media launch.

No change

When contacted, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said it had nothing to say to the media because its position on Ebadi was the same.

In its 10 Sept 2008 letter to Universiti Malaya, the ministry said inviting Ebadi to Malaysia would jeapordise bilateral relations with Iran. The ministry said the Nobel laureate was considered a critic of Iran who promoted a “Western agenda”.

Morawetz said yesterday all other questions on the ban should be addressed to the Iranian embassy.

When contacted by The Nut Graph, however, the embassy’s officer in charge of press and culture declined comment until further notice.

The Bridges forum brings together Nobel laureates and other prominent individuals to Southeast Asia to initiate and strengthen long-term relationships with local universities and other institutions. In Thailand, for example, the forum resulted in research programs between Nobel laureates and local universities.

In April 2008, the inauguration of the Malaysian series of Bridges was hosted by its Malaysian honorary chairperson, Raja Nazrin Shah.

The speakers confirmed for the Malaysian series include 1996 Nobel peace laureate and Timor-Leste President Prof Jose Ramos Horta; 2003 economics laureate Prof Robert Engle; former Foreign Affairs Minister and Vice-Chancellor of the Republic of Germany Joschka Fischer; and Rev Jesse Jackson.

The series was supposed to have kicked off with Ebadi’s keynote address at Universiti Malaya on 3 Nov 2008.

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