On Friday, Iran denied Norway’s accusation that it had confiscated the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in 2003 to Shirin Ebadi—a human rights lawyer who spoke at Barnard in April 2008—and froze her bank accounts.
Ebadi was the first Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner.
According to the New York Times, Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Thursday that Ebadi’s Nobel medal and her award diploma had been removed from her bank box, along with other personal items, and that her accounts had been frozen. It also stated that Ebadi’s husband had been arrested and severely beaten in Tehran.
A committee in Norway chooses the Nobel peace laureates, while the winners for the other prizes are chosen in Sweden.
Justin Sohail Hedvat, GS/JTS ’12, the public relations and events coordinator for the Columbia Iranian Students Association, said he believes that the confiscation of Ebadi’s prize is another violation of human rights in Iran.
“The confiscation of [Ebadi’s] Nobel Peace Prize looks as if they are trying to cover up their own human rights violation,” he said. “Ebadi represents the people of Iran … they want a more modern, democratic country,” he added.
In a statement on Friday, Iran denied the seizure of Ebadi’s medal and the freezing of her accounts, while remaining silent on the accusation about arresting Ebadi’s husband. It also says that Ebadi owes taxes to the government.
“We are surprised that Norwegian officials can make such hasty and biased comments and disregard the laws and regulations of other countries,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in comments carried by the Mehr news agency. Mehmanparast also denies the confiscation of Ebadi’s Nobel but confirms the freezing of her accounts.
“We do not understand how Norwegian officials are trying to justify people’s negligence to pay tax,” he said.
Iran states that Ebadi owes around $400,000 in taxes for her Nobel prize money, which amounted to $1.3 million. Ebadi states that under Iranian law no such taxes exist for prizes.
“The illusion of freedom has gradually eroded … now it is clear that there is no clear viable freedom for the Iranian people,” Hevdat said, adding, “the people are finally rioting against the government wanting change.”
Ebadi left Iran just prior to the controversial re-election of Ahmadinejad and hasn’t returned since.
Ebadi originally won the Peace Prize for her work in women’s and child’s rights. When Ebadi spoke at Barnard in 2008, she focused heavily on Iran’s feminist movement. She said that oppression exists in every culture and that civilization is not advanced enough to give equal rights to men and women.
She also discussed the presence of women in Iranian politics, stating that one of Ahmadinejad’s vice presidents is female and that over 65 percent of university students are female.
“Women have even infiltrated the radical forces of Iran, and radicals can no longer ignore the capabilities of Iranian women,” she said. Despite this, she said that discrimination still exists in Iran. She believed that this discrimination is rooted in the “patriarchal culture” that existed in the Muslim world.
“For someone like me, who is the son of Iranian patriots, this is a pretty exciting and groundbreaking time,” Hedvat said. “Our hearts are in Iran. We want these human rights violations to stop. We hope for peace and security for the people of Iran and for a real democratic government to be institutionalized soon.”
Joy Resmovits contributed reporting to this article.