( LatWp ) - Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner and the lead lawyer for imprisoned American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, charged Thursday that the Iranian government has turned down her request to represent the Potomac, Md., resident, refused information on the charges against Esfandiari, and denied a legal team access to its client.
After Iran announced Thursday that Iranian and U.S. diplomats are to hold talks on the future of Iraq on May 28, Ebadi said the arrest of people such as Esfandiari is ``not a very good starting point for negotiations between the two countries.''
Esfandiari, the director of Middle East programs for the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was imprisoned in Tehran on May 8 after more than four months under virtual house arrest. Iran's judiciary said this week that Esfandiari is being investigated for ``crimes against national security'' -- including fomenting revolution in Iran and spying for the United States and Israel.
``I've known her for many years and I know she is innocent,'' Ebadi said in an interview in Washington before speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2000, Ebadi, a human rights lawyer, was imprisoned for her activities on a human rights case in the same notorious jail where Esfandiari is being held.
Ebadi said Iran is breaking its own laws in denying Esfandiari access to legal representation, which Esfandiari had requested in a telephone call to her mother from Evin Prison. Esfandiari, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen who had lived in the United States for more than a quarter century, went to Iran to visit her ailing 93-year-old mother.
``Our goal is to inform Iranians and the international community that the government is not respecting its own laws and regulations,'' Ebadi said. ``Her arrest was illegal.''
The Nobel laureate noted that Esfandiari did not go public about her ordeal after she was put under house arrest at the beginning of the year, even during six weeks of interrogations by Iran's intelligence ministry. ``In return for my client's goodwill, the government went ahead with this,'' Ebadi said.
Ebadi said the case is a warning to Iranian foreign policy academics and analysts, and an attempt to further restrict Iranian civil society groups.
``If Iran and the U.S. governments are to negotiate, which I personally welcome, these negotiations must not be limited to foreign ministers of the two countries or even the presidents. The key point is the need for exchange between civil society in Iran and the United States,'' Ebadi said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced in Pakistan Thursday that the U.S.-Iran talks will take place in Baghdad on Memorial Day. The talks are supposed to be limited to issues related to the stability of Iraq.