Allow Ebadi to speak at forum, says Rais

AP, October 24, 2008
KUALA LUMPUR Foreign Minister Datuk Sen Dr Rais Yatim said Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr Shirin Ebadi should be allowed to give a speech in Malaysia despite Iran’s objections, reversing a government order that scuttled her planned appearance at a university forum, a news report said yesterday.

Ebadi, a well-known Iranian human rights activist often at odds with her country’s hardline government, had agreed to give a lee tore on “Islam and Cultural Diversity” at Universiti Malaya on Nov 3.

But, an organiser said this week that the invitation was scrapped at the urging of the Foreign Ministry because of pressure by Iranian diplomats.

However, Rais said on Thursday that a letter advising the organisers to withdraw the invitation to Ebadi had been sent by one of his ministry’s officials without his knowledge. a newspaper reported.

“We would like Dr Ebadi to he invited to the forum,” the report quoted Rais as saying. “Malaysia should allow the freedom of expression and criticism at the highest kve1. I will investigate this matter.”

It was still not certain whether the sudden U-turn would result in a visit by Ebady to Malaysia.

Datuk Rafiah Salim, Universiti Malaya Vice-Chancellor, said the ministry bad not formally informed the university of any change in its stance.

She declined to say if the university would send a new invitation to Ebadi if the ministry approves.

Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for advocating greater rights for women and children in Iran.

However, Iran’s government, which accuses her of being a Western agent, banned her Centre for Protecting Human Rights in 2006, saying it did not have a permit.

An organising official said earlier this week that the Foreign Ministry had “strongly” urged them to rescind the invitation to Ebadi because the Iranian embassy was “pushing for Malaysia to call it off”.

Organisers were also warned that Iranian students in Malaysia might hold protests, the official said
Ebadi’s speech was supposed to kick of a series of talks in Malaysia and Thailand initiated by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation.

Other scheduled speakers include American civil rights figure Jesse Jackson and Timer Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta.