2003 Nobel Peace Prize – Shirin Ebadi, Iranian Human Rights Attorney

In 1975, attorney Shirin Ebadi was appointed president of Bench 24 of Tehran’s City Court, becoming the first female judge in Iran. After the Islamic revolution, women were forbidden to serve as judges in Iran. Attempting to move to private practice, she was unable to get her application approved until 1992.

In the 1990s, Ebadi began taking human rights cases, focusing on women and children. She founded the Association for Support of Children’s Rights in 1995 and the Human Rights Defense Center in 2001. Two years later, she won the Nobel Peace Prize.

She was the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the prize. When she returned to Iran from Paris after receiving the news of the award, thousands greeted her at the airport.

In 2008 and 2009 Ebadi was increasingly threatened by the Iranian authorities, and criticized for taking the cases of homosexuals and members of the persecuted Bahá’í faith, a severely persecuted minority in Iran. One of her human rights groups was shut down by Iranian police. Her Nobel prize, diploma and other honors were confiscated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and her accounts frozen. After receiving credible threats against her life and her family, Ebadi went into exile in Europe and the US.

She continues to be an effective voice for human rights in Iran and the Muslim world. In 2004, she was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the “100 most powerful women in the world”.