(New York) - Iranian authorities should immediately stop their harassment campaign against Shirin Ebadi, the human rights defender and 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, and her family, Human Rights Watch said today.
Iran's Intelligence Ministry has summoned Ebadi's husband and sister for questioning and threatened them with losing their jobs and eventual arrest if Ebadi continues her human rights advocacy. In late November, a Revolutionary Court order froze Ebadi's personal bank accounts and her retirement pay and authorized confiscation of the family's belongings, including her husband's safe deposit box that held her Nobel Peace Prize, Legion d'honneur, and other awards. Authorities gave no reason, although this followed their claim that she had not paid taxes on those awards.
"The government has been doing everything it can to silence those who speak out for human rights," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "It should choose today, Human Rights Day and the day the Nobel peace prize is awarded, to reverse course and call off its campaign against its most famous human rights activist."
In June, the government informed Ebadi that she owed taxes on her Nobel Prize award, though it had not previously made such a claim in six years since she was awarded the Prize and prizes are exempt from taxes under Iranian tax laws. Her lawyers appealed the decision, but there has not yet been a ruling on the appeal.
The Revolutionary Court also ordered a freeze on the bank accounts and retirement income of her husband, Javad Tavassolian. It took the action even though the retirement income was being paid from a fund consisting of payments deducted from his income while he was working.
The Revolutionary Court also ordered the confiscation of Tavassolian's Bank Tejarat safe deposit box that held Ebadi's Nobel Peace Prize and other awards. Ebadi's lawyer told Human Rights Watch that the authorities gave no reason for seizing Tavassolian's property or freezing his bank accounts.
Ebadi told Human Rights Watch that her husband has never been involved in her human rights activities. "The same court branch that ordered the freezing of our accounts has also barred my husband from traveling abroad," she said. "He has not been charged with any crimes, he has not been interrogated, and there is no case filed against him, but he has been barred from traveling abroad."
Ministry of Intelligence officials also told Ebadi's husband to provide home addresses and telephone numbers of Ebadi's daughters, who are studying abroad, but he has refused to give them. Ebadi herself is currently ouside of Iran.
Over the past two months, Ministry of Intelligence officials have summoned Ebadi's sister twice. They warned her both times not to talk to Ebadi and said that the sister might lose her university position if Ebadi continued her human rights work.
On November 10, Tavassolian asked the Revolutionary Court to lift the suspension orders from his account, but the judge who issued the orders did not respond. Ebadi and her husband then filed a criminal complaint of abuse of power against the judge.
Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948 with Iranian support, states that, "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of [his] property."
"It seems quite clear that the threats against family members, confiscation of personal belongings, and harassment are intended to punish Shirin Ebadi and frighten other human rights activists," Stork said.