YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The situation with human rights in Armenia is not as bad as one might think, Iran’s most prominent dissident and Nobel Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, said on Tuesday, defending the holding of an international conference in Yerevan.
Ebadi is among some 300 campaigners from around the world attending the annual conference of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Speaking at a joint news conference with FIDH leaders, she dismissed suggestions that the forum could send a wrong message to the world about the Armenian authorities’ human rights record.
“When the FIDH decided to hold its meeting in this country, your country enjoyed a better situation among the countries in the region,” explained Ebadi. “When we decided to hold our meeting here, we didn’t say or believe that there are no violations of human rights here.
“We do know that there are violations of human rights going on in this country. However, when we compared it with other countries in the region we decided that this place is not as bad as other countries.”
“We will all work together to make the situation better,” she added.
A lawyer and former judge, Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts to promote democracy and human rights, particularly for women and children, in Iran. She became the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the award.
The worldwide recognition has put Ebadi at loggerheads with Iran’s clerical leaders, especially after last June’s disputed presidential election. The Iranian authorities closed in 2008 a leading non-governmental organization she founded in 2001.
Ebadi argued that when it comes to human rights protection Armenia compares more favorably with Iran and other countries of the region and Central Asia. “A few years ago, I was in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and what I saw there was that people who wanted to travel to the capital of their country needed to get a special permit,” she said.
“I also had a friend, a journalist from Kazakhstan, who had written an article and in order to silence him, they killed two of his daughters in front of him. I have also been in Baku and Tashkent and I know that their situation is similar.”
“There are numerous journalists who are in prison in Iran right now,” added Ebadi. “We can not hold meetings like this in my country. Even I don’t have the power to be active in Iran.”