Nobel Peace Laureate Accepts Prize

Iranian activist Shirin Ebadi receives the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize during a ceremony in Oslo's City Hall. Ebadi, seen holding the Nobel Diploma is flanked by the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Ole Danbolt Mjos who holds the medal which goes with the prize
Iranian activist Shirin Ebadi accepted the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize on Wednesday, calling it an inspiration to women, Iranians, Muslims and all others striving for human rights worldwide.

"The decision by the Nobel Peace committee to award the 2003 prize to me, as the first Iranian and the first woman from an Islamic country, inspires me and millions of Iranians and nationals of Islamic states with the hope that our efforts, endeavors and struggles toward the realization of human rights and the establishment of democracy ... enjoy the support, backing and solidarity of international civil society," she said in Farsi.

Wearing a light-colored skirt and shirt, Ebadi appeared without the headscarf that Iran requires women to wear in public, in what many viewed as a silent expression of her battle for freedom.

"Undoubtedly, my selection will be an inspiration to the masses of women striving to realize their rights, not only in Iran, but throughout the region," she said.

She also urged humanity to learn from its mistakes by upholding human rights throughout the world.

"If the 21st Century wishes to free itself from the cycle of violence, acts of terror and war ... there is no other way except by understanding and putting into practice every human right for all mankind regardless of race, gender, faith, nationality or social status," she said according to an English translation of her speech.

Ahead of the ceremony outside Oslo City Hall, thousands of children sang for her. Later Wednesday, the laureate will be honored with a torch light parade and an invitation-only banquet.

At the solemn one-hour ceremony, Ebadi, smiling and bowing her head occasionally, accepted a gold medal and diploma before an audience of hundreds of people, including members of the Norwegian royal family, Ebadi's own family and Academy Award winning actors Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The prize also includes a 10 million Swedish kronor (about US$ 1.4 million) cash award.

The audience, including the royals, rose to give the laureate a standing ovation, and listened to various musical selections, including songs performed live by the Iranian-Kurd folk music group The Kamkars.

The 56-year-old lawyer, writer and activist, Iran's first female judge, was named the 2003 Nobel peace laureate for her work in fighting for democracy and the rights of women and children. In 2000, she was jailed for three weeks on charges of slandering government officials and banned from working as a lawyer after riling her nation's theocratic rulers.

Since winning the Nobel, Iranian reformers have looked to her to rally opposition to unelected hard-liners who oppose any change to the conservative Islamic system of running the country.

The decision to award the prize to Ebadi, who opposes violence, capital punishment and the oppression of women, has been praised by Iranian reformers as a "source of pride for Iran and a boost to democratic reforms." But hard-liners have denounced her as a "Western mercenary" and she recently was given police bodyguards after receiving numerous death threats.

Last week, about 60 female hard-liners prevented Ebadi from making a speech at a women's university in Tehran.

In her speech, Ebadi said despotism was incompatible with Iranian traditions.

"Some Muslims, under the pretext that democracy and human rights are not compatible with Islamic teachings and the traditional structure of Islamic societies, have justified despotic governments and continue to do so," Ebadi said.

She also warned that the specter of terror in the wake of Sept. 11 has resulted in attacks against basic human rights worldwide.

"In the past two years, some states have violated the universal principles and laws of human rights by using the events of 11 September and the war on international terrorism as a pretext," she said. "Regulations restricting human rights and basic freedoms, special bodies and extraordinary courts which make fair adjudication difficult and at times impossible, have been justified and given legitimacy under the cloak of the war on terrorism."

The Nobel Prizes, first awarded in 1901, were created by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel in his will and are always presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of his death in 1896.

The peace prize is awarded in Oslo, while the prizes in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics are presented in Sweden.

By Doug Mellgren