In my opinion,
winning this prize won't affect Iranian society in the short term,
but I'm sure it'll have an effect in the long term. That's because
it'll give encouragement to the people who believe in progressive
change in Iran, and the international recognition that comes with
the prize will also attract more supporters. When more and more
people want something, it becomes easier to achieve that goal.
What the public want will become reality. Although you can't put
a time limit on social and political change, the prize will create
progressive change, and the best way towards reform is via the
Q:You have worked
for years on the issue of women's and children's rights. What
has been your most significant achievement?
A: All the cases
that I have worked on and all the work I have done are of equal
importance. It's as though you're asking a mother to choose a
favourite among her children - it's impossible, as she loves all
her children equally. The answer is the same for my work.
Q: How compatible
are human rights with Islam?
A: Human rights
are compatible with Islam. I've spent 20 years researching this
and studying the theory of this. The problem is that if some Islamic
countries don't implement human rights law, it's because of their
misinterpretation of Islam; you see, you can be a good Muslim
and follow the human rights charter. It's all about the right interpretation.
For instance, before the  revolution I was a judge. When
the revolution happened, they said that women could not be judges
because Islam forbids it, and so they dismissed me from my post,
and the rest of the female judges.
Because of this,
we all spent a lot of time investigating whether this was really
true. We read, researched, and wrote articles about it. Finally,
after 15 years, I'm happy to say that they have accepted that
women can be judges. At the moment, we have two female judges
in the Appeal Courts. So you see, when they said women couldn't
be judges, they said it was because Islam had said so. But now
they say Islam allows female judges, so my point is that with
time, interpretations differ.
Q: Upon your arrival
there has been speculation you might run for office. Have you ever
A: I have never
considered entering any sort of political career, running for
parliament, or entering presidential elections. Never. A human
rights activist must always work among the people, and must campaign
and defend people who cannot defend themselves, because it is
governments and rulers that abuse human rights. How is it possible
to be a government member and be effectively critical of the system
you're in? They are totally at odds with each other, so a human
rights activist must never enter the world of politics or the
Q: The government's
reaction to you has been puzzling - what is your take on this?
A: It's very
natural that people have their own individual opinion on issues.
Any social or political subject divides people's opinions. I accept
this, that people have opposing points of view, and I respect everybody's
opinions. I do have to say that the government representative,
Mr Ramazanpur, and the vice-president, Mr [Mohammad Ali] Abtahi,
came to the airport to welcome me home and congratulate me on
my win. I'm very grateful for the kindness they showed towards
Q: How do you
see the role of women in Iran evolving in the near future?
A: Compared to
20 years ago, women's rights have improved tremendously. In fact,
we're witnessing a gradual shift and improvement in women's rights
in Iran. But this doesn't mean that we don't face difficulties:
laws still need improving and changing in the field of both women's
and children's rights.
Q: To achieve
human rights in Iran, what needs to change?
A: In order for
human rights to improve in Iran, there are three main points that
we have to work on. The first is educational change. We need to
educate Iranians about human rights, so they are more familiar
with it. For change to happen, it's necessary that the majority
should want that change, so it's necessary to teach people from
an early age starting from primary school right up to high school
the key to success.
Secondly, we have
to be constantly evaluating our laws and improving on them and
changing them. All our laws must be compatible with international
human rights law. The Iranian government has accepted the International
Human Rights, including political, social and economic change
and has promised to implement it. Therefore our laws must be compatible
with these international laws.
Thirdly, we need
the tools and mechanisms necessary for implementing these laws.
In some fields we have a good infrastructure for dealing with
the law, but we don't have the tools and mechanisms to deliver.
For example, the law says that if a woman is beaten up by her
husband, she can get a divorce from the courts, but, while there
is no welfare system for divorcees, and as long as we don't have
secure homes for battered wives, what's the use of having permission
to divorce your husband in the first place? Who's going to take
responsibility for a woman who doesn't work and has no income,
once she leaves her husband's house? So the right mechanisms should
be in place in order for these laws to be effective.
Q: What is the
most important issue that needs addressing?
A: First and
foremost, women's rights. And within this, the top priority is
a change in family law. The age of criminal responsibly in Iran
is very low: for a girl it is nine and for a boy it's 15. This
means that if a nine-year-old girl commits the same crime as me
- an adult - she'll receive the same punishment that I would, so
it's comparing the actions of a nine-year old to the actions of
Q: Are the government
going to help you to implement these changes?
A: A change in
law really depends on the support of the people. If enough people
want change, it will happen. I am very hopeful for the future.