Malaysia: Religion of Muzzlers Scraps Nobel Laureate's Speech



Malaysia has scrapped an invitation for Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi to deliver a speech about Islam because of pressure from Iranian diplomats who warned the event could hurt bilateral ties, an official said.

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Ebadi, who won the peace prize in 2003 for her work advocating greater rights for women and children in Iran, has often been at odds with her country’s hard-line government. Tehran has banned her Centre for Protecting Human Rights in 2006, claiming it did not have a permit.

Ebadi had agreed to give a speech titled “Islam and Cultural Diversity” at Kuala Lumpur’s University of Malaya on Nov. 3, but the Malaysian Foreign Ministry sent a letter to organisers last month “strongly advising” them not to host her, an organisers official said.

A Foreign Ministry official in the department that sent the letter said he had no immediate comment. The official cannot be named because of ministry guidelines.

“We were told there would be big implications for bilateral relations,” the organisers official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “Our hands were tied. The invitation for her to speak had to be withdrawn.”

Organisers were informed that the Iranian Embassy had objected to the planned speech and “were pushing for Malaysia to call it off,” the organisers official said. They were also warned that Iranian university students living in Malaysia may hold protests in Ebadi’s presence.

The speech was supposed to kick off a series of talks in Malaysia and Thailand over the next few months initiated by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation. Other speakers will include U.S. civil rights speaker Jesse Jackson and East Timor’s President Jose Ramos-Horta.

Ebadi was among the first women judges in Iran, before being removed from her job after the Islamic revolution in 1979. She has since become an attorney and a human rights activist known for taking up cases of dissident figures.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran denounced the decision to cancel Ebadi’s speech, accusing Tehran of using “all its might to muzzle Dr. Ebadi and her human rights advocacy inside Iran.”

“It is extremely disturbing that now the Malaysian government is doing the same on behalf of the Iranian government,” the Vienna-based group said in a statement this week.

© 2008 AP

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