Iranian president praises Nobel winner but scorns `political' award
BRIAN MURPHY, Associated Press Writer
SF Gate Daily
Showing the government's deep divisions over Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, Iran's president Tuesday lauded the success of the human rights activist but called the award a "political" tool.
Ebadi was returning to Iran from Paris for the first time since the surprise Nobel decision was announced Friday -- and she comes home to a sharp controversy over her prize.
Reformers consider her a possible savior of their embattled movement against the ruling hard-line clerics' monopoly on power. Conservatives have denounced the Nobel prize as an attempt by the West to weaken Iran's Islamic leadership.
The double-edged comments by pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami -- his first public reaction to Ebadi's win -- apparently sought to appease both sides.
"This award has been given to her totally on the basis of political considerations," Khatami told reporters. He also called the prize "not very important," compared with other Nobel awards such as literature.
But he also praised the sudden fame of the 56-year-old lawyer and human rights campaigner, who was attending a conference in the French capital when the Nobel committee announced she had won.
"Nobody will be unhappy to see the success of a fellow Iranian," Khatami said. "I am also happy an Iranian has achieved success. I hope this achievement will be used for the interests of the nation and the world."
There were fears the country could become further polarized if Ebadi maintains her high-profile work, which includes campaigns for women's rights, protection for children and refugees and greater political freedoms.
Ebadi was Iran's first female judge but lost her post in the 1979 Islamic Revolution after clerics ruled women could not longer preside in court.
As a lawyer, she represented families of writers and intellectuals killed in 1999, and worked to expose conspirators behind an attack by pro-clergy assailants on students at Tehran University in 1999.
Ebadi and another lawyer were arrested in 2000 for alleged links to a videotape that purportedly revealed ties between government officials and hard-line vigilantes. They were released from jail after three weeks, and later convicted and given suspended prison sentences.
Hard-line figures have clearly interpreted Ebadi's new stature as a threat, but it was unclear how they would respond.
"With little doubt, we can say that goal of this prize is to embarrass Muslims and, especially, the Iranian people," said a commentary in the Kayhan newspaper, a leading conservative voice. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/news/archive/2003/10/14/international0951EDT0522.DTL