Malaysia 'disinvites' Shirin Ebadi

Bangkok Post, October 23, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR: 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 yesterday.

Ms 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 hardline government. Teheran has banned her Centre for Protecting Human Rights in 2006, claiming it did not have permit.

Ms 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 organising official said.

A Foreign Ministry official in the department that sent the letter said he had no immediate comment. Calls to the Iranian embassy went unanswered.

“We were told there would be big implications for bilateral relations, “the organising official said on condition of anonymity. “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 The invitation for her to speak had to be withdrawn.”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 organising official said. They were also warned that Iranian university students living in Malaysia may hold protests in Ms Ebadi’s presence.

The speech was supposed to kick off series of talks in Malaysia and Thailand over the next few months initiated by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation.