The Denver Post
Denver and the West

By Bruce Finley

BOULDER — Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi congratulated President Barack Obama on joining the family of peace prize winners Friday — and challenged him to focus on helping Iran’s people rather than encouraging sanctions and a confrontation over nuclear arms.

“I certainly hope that Mr. Obama is now encouraged to place more emphasis on understanding and exploring the true meaning of peace. Peace is not simply the absence of war. . . .

“It’s not realistic for any U.S. administration to assume that by resorting to war it prevents states from developing nuclear weapons.”

A 62-year-old human-rights lawyer, Ebadi made her critique during an interview at the Boulder campus of Naropa University, where she was to speak and lead a symposium.

She pressed her case that Iran’s ruling regime has tortured and killed jailed protesters — and called on Colorado women to wear black and gather Saturdays at 7 p.m. as part of a global movement of solidarity with “Mourning Mothers of Iran.”

“Non-democratic states are more dangerous for international peace than nuclear weapons,” Ebadi said, though she opposes any nation wielding nuclear weapons.

The problem, she said, is that the Obama administration, in confronting Iran over its nuclear program, neglects opportunities to bring about essential political change, she said. And U.S.-backed economic sanctions only hurt the people Americans ought to be supporting, Ebadi said.

“Human rights is more important for democracy than stressing the nuclear issue,” she said.

Today most Iranians oppose nuclear energy because of the trouble it may cause, “let alone nuclear weapons,” she said.

“It is by listening to the voices of the people that the United States can find avenues” to deal with Iran, she said.

Ebadi presided over Iranian courts as a judge in 1979 at the time of Iran’s Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah. Revolutionaries demoted Ebadi to clerk in her courtroom.

She continued to work as a human-rights lawyer, launching a movement for women and children, pushing for basic rights and democratic change. In 2003, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. She used the $1.4 million she received to establish a Center for the Defense of Human Rights.

Now in Iran, she and her daughter face death threats. A note pinned to the door of her home a year ago warned “death is near.” Graffiti vandals scrawled more threats on walls. Iranian security agents shut down her center.

“The office is still closed, but its activities continue,” Ebadi said.

This week, an Iranian arrested in the post-election unrest was sentenced to death. “Very regrettable,” Ebadi said.

But she will return to fight discrimination and oppression, she said.

Bruce Finley: 303-954-1700 or


Read more: Speaking in Boulder, Iranian laureate wants Obama to focus on people – The Denver Post
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