OSLO, Norway - Iranian activist Shirin Ebadi accepted the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize on Wednesday on behalf of her fellow Iranians, Muslim women everywhere and those who struggle for human rights.
Ebadi, the first Iranian and Muslim woman to win the Peace Prize, appeared without the headscarf that Iran requires women to wear, in what many viewed as a silent expression of her battle for freedom.
"Let us hope the prize will also inspire changes in your beloved home country, Iran, as well as in other parts of the world where people need to hear your clear voice," said Ole Danbolt Mjos, the chairman of the five-member Norwegian awards committee.
The peace prize is awarded in Oslo, while the prizes in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics are to be presented Wednesday in Sweden.
Ahead of the ceremony outside Oslo City Hall, thousands of children sang for her, the snow surrounding the building. Late Wednesday, the laureate will be honored with a torch light parade and an invitation-only banquet.
At the solemn one-hour ceremony, Ebadi received a gold medal, diploma and cash award of nearly $1.4 million before an audience of hundreds of people, including members of the Norwegian royal family, Ebadi's own family and Academy Award winning actors Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
The 56-year-old lawyer, author and activist, Iran's first female judge, was named the 2003 Nobel peace laureate for her work in fighting for democracy and the rights of women and children. In 2000, she was jailed for three weeks on charges of slandering government officials and banned from working as a lawyer after riling her nation's theocratic rulers.
Since winning the Nobel, Iranian reformers have looked to her to rally opposition to unelected hard-liners who oppose any change to the conservative Islamic system of running the country.
The decision to award the prize to Ebadi, who opposes violence, capital punishment and the oppression of women, has been praised by Iranian reformers as a "source of pride for Iran and a boost to democratic reforms." But hard-liners have denounced her as a "Western mercenary" and she recently was given police bodyguards after receiving numerous death threats.
Last week, about 60 female hard-liners prevented Ebadi from making a speech at a women's university in Tehran.
In her acceptance speech, Ebadi said despotism was incompatible with Iranian traditions.
"Some Muslims, under the pretext that democracy and human rights are not compatible with Islamic teachings and the traditional structure of Islamic societies, have justified despotic governments and continue to do so," Ebadi said, according to an advance copy of the text.
But in a reminder to such hard-line governments, Ebadi stressed that she, like other Iranians, is a descendant of Cyrus the Great, who governed 2,500 years ago and rejected the idea of rule by oppression.
"He would not reign over the people if they did not wish it," she said, according to her prepared remarks. "And (he) promised not to force any person to change their religion and guaranteed freedom for all."
Ebadi also took the United States to task for its human rights record.
She warned that threats to human rights also come from countries who have used the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the war on terrorism as pretexts for limiting freedoms, singling out the detention of hundreds of Muslim men seized by the United States and held at its naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without any access to lawyers.
The Nobel Prizes, first awarded in 1901, were created by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel in his will and are always presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of his death in 1896.
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