Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, has urged her home government on Tuesday to free five British sailors detained after their racing yacht entered into Iranian waters.
The British government said on Monday that Iran is holding the five after their yacht, owned by Sail Bahrain, was stopped last Wednesday after entering inadvertently into Iranian waters while en route to join the Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race.
Iran would neither confirm nor deny on Tuesday that it is holding the sailors, with a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said the case was “being investigated.”
The case was being closely watched because the detention could heighten tensions between Iran and major world powers, including Britain, that are demanding a halt to Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.
On Tuesday, Ms. Ebadi, an Iranian human rights lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts in promoting democracy, condemned the detention. She said that such border violations can happen by mistake at any time and that Iranian authorities should have first warned the sailors to leave the area.
“Unfortunately, in this case, instead of warning them to leave the area, they arrested them,” she told a press conference in Seoul. “I believe that the Iranian government should immediately free them.”
Ms. Ebadi also blasted Iranian authorities for confiscating her Nobel Prize medal and freezing bank accounts of her and her husband.
She said last week that authorities took the medal about three weeks ago from a safe-deposit box in Iran, claiming she owed taxes on the $1.3 million she was awarded. Ms. Ebadi says that such prizes are exempt from tax under Iranian law.
The seizure of her prize was an expression of the Iranian government’s harsh approach to anyone it considers an opponent - particularly since the massive street protests triggered by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed June 12 re-election.
“This is against the law and completely illegal,” she said of the seizure of her medal and bank account closures.
She said she sued the judge who ordered the seizure in an effort to reverse the decision, but acknowledged difficulties.
“Unfortunately, many judges in Iran, they are not independent,” she said. “Judges in Iran usually do whatever the intelligence ministry order them to do.”
In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, denied any political motivations are involved in the seizure.
“The Mrs. Ebadi issue was not a political issue but an issue of tax evasion, duties she had not paid and had repeatedly evaded,” he said. “It’s regrettable that Western countries, which attach high importance on matters of tax evasion, can be seen as helping someone evade taxes. How can they benefit from that?”
Ms. Ebadi arrived in Seoul on Tuesday to attend a forum and deliver speeches at the invitation of the Seoul—based Asia Journalist Association and the Academy of Korean Studies.