TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian authorities have confiscated Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi's medal, the human rights lawyer said Thursday, in a sign of the increasingly drastic steps Tehran is taking against any dissent.
In Norway, where the peace prize is awarded, the government said the confiscation of the gold medal was a shocking first in the history of the 108-year-old prize.
Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts in promoting democracy. She has long faced harassment from Iranian authorities for her activities — including threats against her relatives and a raid on her office last year in which files were confiscated.
The seizure of her prize is an expression of the Iranian government's harsh approach to anyone it considers an opponent — particularly since the street protests triggered by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed June 12 re-election.
Acting on orders from Tehran's Revolutionary Court, authorities took the peace prize medal about three weeks ago from a safe-deposit box in Iran, Ebadi said in a phone interview from London. They also seized her Legion of Honor, France's top recognition of bravery and service, and a ring awarded to her by a German association of journalists, she said.
Authorities froze the bank accounts of Ebadi and her husband and demanded $410,000 in taxes that they said were owed on the $1.3 million she was awarded. Ebadi said, however, that such prizes are exempt from tax under Iranian law. She said the government also was trying to confiscate her home.
Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to be awarded the peace prize and the first female judge in Iran, said that she would not be intimidated and that her absence from the country since June did not mean she felt exiled.
"Nobody is able to send me to exile from my home country," she said. "I have received many threatening messages. …They said they would detain me if I returned, or that they would make the environment unsafe for me wherever I am.
"But my activities are legal and nobody can ban me from my legal activities."
Ebadi has criticized the Iranian government's crackdown on demonstrations by those claiming the June vote was stolen from a pro-reform candidate through massive fraud.
Ebadi left the country a day before the vote to attend a conference in Spain and has not returned since. In the days after the vote, she urged the international community to reject the outcome and called for a new election monitored by the United Nations.
During the past months, hundreds of pro-reform activists have been arrested, and a mass trial has sentenced dozens to prison terms. Authorities also went after Ebadi's human rights center in Iran.
"After the election, all my colleagues in the center were either detained or banned from traveling abroad," Ebadi said.
Calls to Iranian judiciary officials were not returned Thursday, and the Iranian Embassy in Norway refrained from comment.