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Iranians in U.S. Overjoyed at Nobel Prize

October 11, 2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Iranians across the country celebrated Friday after human rights activist Shirin Ebadi won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, saying the first Muslim woman to win the honor can draw attention to the fight against oppression in the Middle East.

News of the award spread rapidly in Los Angeles, where a third of the nation’s 277,000 Iranian immigrants live.

``I hope this will help the women in Iran and throughout the region,″ said Farideh Behrozi, who burst into tears when she heard the news. ``I hope they recognize that if you fight, someone will listen. If you scream and holler and speak your peace, someone will hear.″

Ebadi, 56, one of the first female judges in Iran and who was jailed on charges of slandering government officials, has worked actively to promote peaceful, democratic solutions in the struggle for human rights, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

At Renaissance hair salon in West Los Angeles, Delba Jenab, who fled Iran 25 years ago, said she felt goosebumps after hearing that Ebadi won.

``This is very exciting because this means doors are opening,″ said Jenab, who said that when she lived in Iran, police would stop her on the street if a strand of hair had escaped her head scarf.

Haleh Esfandiari, of the Middle East Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., said the selection of Ebadi will improve the image of Iran around the world.

``Iran has been seen as this rogue state, a hostage taker,″ she said. ``Now people will see the other side, that people are working for human rights, struggling and living their lives for a better society.″

Esfandiari also sees the award as overdue recognition for all Iranian women who have long fought against the country’s repressive regime.

Although ruling clerics have loosened many social restrictions, including those governing the use of makeup and contact between unmarried couples, women are still considered second-class citizens in Iran.

A woman’s court testimony is valued at half that of a man, a woman must get permission from her husband to work or travel abroad, and it is extremely difficult for a woman to get a divorce.

Reza Dehbozorgi, 50, of Miami, said he couldn’t wait to tell his daughter about the prize. ``My daughter, she is studying law. She was born here, but Ebadi will be a great role model for her,″ he said.

The state-run Iranian media briefly mentioned the award Friday, but in the United States, Iranian television and radio stations were swamped with e-mails and faxes.

Los Angeles-based journalist Homa Sarshar, 56, said her phone had been ringing since 5 a.m.

``I am very proud. This is the happiest moment in a decade for me,″ Sarshar said. ``The whole world will know the state of women and children in Iran, and the struggle for human rights in the Middle East.″


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