Iranian Nobel laurete Shirin Ebadi defies court


Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi has said she is ready to face arrest for refusing to appear before the Islamic state's feared Revolutionary Court.

The human rights lawyer, who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, has defied a judiciary order to attend the court on the grounds that she was not informed of the charges she faced.

Asked if she feared the judiciary would carry out its written threat to arrest her if she did not go to court by Sunday, Ebadi told Reuters: "In this country anything is possible."

Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, said the court had now told her that her case involved a civil suit brought by a private complainant.

This explanation further angered Ebadi, 57, who noted that the Revolutionary Court, which has jailed many intellectuals and political dissidents, deals with national security issues.

"It is unprecedented for the Revolutionary Court to summon someone for a private suit and (for them to) be told that failure to appear would result in his or her arrest," she said.

"I believe the Revolutionary Court has diverted from the principle of impartiality regarding my summons and I hope it will be addressed by the judicial authorities."

A staunch defender of women's and children's rights, Ebadi is disliked by religious hardliners in Iran , who view her as a tool of the West. Her defence of high profile dissidents has also brought her into regular conflict with the authorities.

The organisation Human Rights Watch said it was concerned about Ebadi's safety.

"This is a blatant attempt by the Iranian government to silence one of the few remaining voices for human rights in Iran ," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the group's Middle East and North Africa Division.

"If even a Nobel prize winner can be threatened, then no activist is safe."

Reformist President Mohammad Khatami, speaking during an African tour on Saturday, said Ebadi had nothing to fear.

"As head of state, I personally guarantee her safety and her freedom to continue her activities," he told reporters in Dakar. "It is just an ordinary case and it is going to be settled pretty soon."