TEHRAN AND BEIRUT — Scores of young men gathered around the Tehran home-office of Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, shouted slogans against her and vandalized her home in the latest episode by hard-line political groups close to the government to intimidate the human rights lawyer.
Ebadi, 61, said Friday that two police officers dispatched after her frantic phone calls to authorities "just watched" Thursday as the vandals ripped off the sign bearing her name on her house, screamed that she was a supporter of Israel's Gaza Strip offensive and spray-painted slogans on the front of her building.
"If any demonstration must be permitted by the Interior Ministry, where were the authorities? Why did police not disperse them?" a distraught Ebadi said in a telephone interview from an unspecified location in Tehran. "While the mobs were shouting slogans against me, the police were watching."
She added, "I am scared to go back to my home."
The apparently unarmed young men, chanting, "Death to the pen-pushing mercenary," included one who told the Iranian Students News Agency, or ISNA, that he was a member of the Basiji militia. The hard-line group answers to the elite Revolutionary Guard, a parallel branch of the military, and supreme leader Ali Khamenei, the country's highest political and religious authority.
Ebadi was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her years of legal work advocating on behalf of Iranian political activists, religious and ethnic minorities, women and children.
Thursday's demonstration was the third time in 11 days that authorities or forces close to them have moved against Ebadi, whose Center for the Defense of Human Rights compiled a report cited by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that led to a nonbinding United Nations resolution Dec. 18 calling on Iran to improve its human rights record.
Three days later, authorities shut down the small center, accusing it of operating without a permit. On Dec. 29, authorities seized Ebadi's computer and confidential records, accusing her of tax evasion even though she has not accepted payment for her work in 15 years.
France, in its now-lapsed role as rotating president of the European Union, summoned Iran's envoy to Paris on Wednesday to protest the "unacceptable nature of the threats" against Ebadi and her colleagues.
The demonstrators Thursday accused the human rights lawyer of not being sufficiently outspoken against the Israeli offensive in Gaza.
"Considering that Shirin Ebadi received her Nobel Peace Prize for the defense of children, we gathered in front of her office to ask whether the children of Gaza are not children," Ali-Reza Keighobadi, the Basiji activist, told ISNA.
In a Dec. 27 interview with the semiofficial Fars News Agency, Ebadi condemned the Israeli operation.
"In my view, the only way to resolve the disputes and end this dire condition is to continue the peace negotiation based on mutually satisfactory terms and conditions and establish an independent Palestinian state," she told the news agency.
Human rights advocates say Iranian authorities are using the tumult over Gaza as an excuse to punish dissidents.
"The events in Gaza have brought about an opportunity to suppress and crack down on any human rights activities," said Khalil Bahramian, another Iranian human rights lawyer. "Gaza has provided them the chance to wash away human rights issues."
Mostaghim is a special correspondent.