Iranian Woman Wins The Nobel Peace Prize

OSLO, Norway -- Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi has become the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in an award intended to foster wider democracy in the Islamic world.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee on Friday praised Ebadi -- Iran's first female judge before the 1979 Islamic Revolution forced her to step aside in favor of men -- for fighting for children and women and for taking on cases others were too afraid to touch.

Ebadi, 56, won from a record field of 165 candidates including Pope John Paul II and former Czech President Vaclav Havel. She said she was shocked but proud to learn she had won the $1.3 million prize, to be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10.

Iran's conservative-run state media reported the country's first Nobel peace laureate without comment after several hours, while the reformist government cheered the prize.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Ebadi courageous and many other foreign leaders hailed the award. But former Polish President Lech Walesa, the 1983 winner, grumbled that the ailing 83-year-old Polish pope should have won.

"We hope that the prize will be an inspiration for all those who struggle for human rights and democracy in her country, in the Muslim world, and in all countries where the fight for human rights needs inspiration and support," said the committee, which is made up of five Norwegians chosen by parliament.

"This prize gives me the energy to continue my fight," Ebadi told a news conference during a visit to Paris, without the head scarf required back home under Islamic law.

Ebadi is a lawyer and part-time lecturer at Tehran University. Jailed several times and once branded a threat to the Islamic system, she said she was honored by messages of congratulation that came even from the Vatican.

"It's not because you're a Muslim that you can't respect human rights, so all real Muslims should be really happy with this prize," Ebadi said. She urged the release of political prisoners in Iran.

Ebadi is the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, first awarded in 1901. She is the 11th woman to win and the third Muslim -- after Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in 1994 and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1978.

Last year, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter won.

Reaction in Iran reflected the split between President Mohammad Khatami's government and hard-liners who wield power.

"This is an honor for Iranian women and shows Iranian Muslim women have gained a positive atmosphere for their activities," a government statement said.

But hard-liners were not happy.

"This prize carries the message that Europe intends to put further pressure on human rights issues in Iran as a political move to achieve its particular objectives," said Amir Mohebian, an editor of the hard-line Resalat newspaper.