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Iranian activist’s private office raided

Plainclothes security officials stormed the private office of Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and seized confidential files and records regarding her clients, the human rights lawyer said Tuesday.

Ebadi said five men describing themselves as tax inspectors barged into her Tehran office Monday evening and began rummaging through her files. They left with documents and two computers filled with sensitive data, she said.

“They inspected everything, such as the letters of my clients and my correspondences with them,” Ebadi said in a telephone interview. “My personal writings were also examined and taken.”

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Ebadi, who in 2003 became the first female Muslim to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, is one of Iran’s most prominent dissidents. She and a small circle of lawyers defend students, activists, women, and ethnic and religious minorities accused of political crimes in the Islamic Republic.

The raid on her office appears to be the latest in a series of moves aimed at putting pressure on human rights advocates pressing for democratic change in Iran.

Her organization, the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, compiled a report cited this month by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a nonbinding resolution condemning Iran’s recent record on human rights.

Three days after the Dec. 18 vote, authorities shut down the human rights center, saying it had been operating without a permit.

“They were looking for some excuses to shut down our center and increase pressure on us,” said Mohammed Seifzadeh, another Iranian human rights attorney and confidant of Ebadi.

Then authorities accused Ebadi of evading taxes on cases she took without pay. Tax officials came to her office several days ago to inquire about financial records, which Ebadi said were not at the office.

Ebadi called the tax fraud allegation absurd, saying she hasn’t charged any of her clients for legal work in 15 years.

“If the law and legal procedures are taken into consideration, I am not a tax dodger,” she said. “But if . . . they treat us outside the law, they can do whatever they want.”

The 61-year-old, who was once incarcerated and has for years been subject to harassment by government-affiliated groups, said the latest move wouldn’t stop her work. But she acknowledged that this breach of her personal space had stunned her.

“We are seasoned wolves,” she said of herself and her colleagues. “But I can say I was shocked to see them suddenly in my office.”

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daragahi@latimes.com

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.


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