Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi told Iran's hard-line Revolutionary Court on Saturday she won't obey a vague summons on her to appear for questioning, even if it means she will be jailed -- an open challenge to a powerful body that has tried and convicted many pro-reform intellectuals.
Ebadi, the first Iranian and Muslim woman to win the Nobel peace prize in 2003, vowed in a wide-ranging exclusive interview to resist hard-line threats against her life and will never bow to intimidation.
"I do continue to receive anonymous death threats in various forms such as threatening letters and calls," Ebadi, 57, said. "I've come to believe people who send threatening messages are linked to certain people who provoke them."
"This is intimidation. My record shows that I won't give in to intimidation."
The feared Revolutionary Court, which deals with security crimes, has ordered Ebadi to appear before a branch of the court for "some explanations" or face arrest. The court did not say on what matter it wants her to appear.
The standoff has aroused the attention of US authorities. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher has said "we will continue to follow closely the [Iranian] government's actions against Ms. Ebadi and others."
During a tour in Africa on Saturday, Iran's pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami said he would guarantee her safety and freedom to continue her activities. But powerful hard-liners rarely listen to Khatami.
Washington, which accuses Tehran of pursuing a nuclear weapons program, has backed efforts by Iranian reformists to liberalize the country, which has been ruled by conservative Shiite clerics since a 1979 Islamic revolution toppled the pro-US Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.
Ebadi said she wrote to the Revolutionary Court on Saturday telling it she would not adhere to the summons that was issued on Wednesday and ordered her to appear within three days.
She described the summons as "illegal" because it did not specify a reason for her to face court and said its deadline was yesterday as she received it on Thursday.
The court, which can arrest Ebadi for disregarding the order, has tried many political activists, intellectuals and writers on vague charges of endangering national security and discrediting the ruling Islamic establishment.
The organization she co-founded with several other lawyers, the Center for Protecting Human Rights, does not recognize the court, which Ebadi claims is not mentioned in Iran's Constitution
"Such a court is perhaps justified during a revolution but revolutionary courts lose their legal justification after a revolution," she said. "That such a court summons a lawyer and human rights activist 26 years after a revolution is irrelevant."
Ebadi was jailed shortly for defending the family of the only student killed in a 1999 raid by police and hard-line vigilantes at a Tehran University dormitory, sparking the biggest unrest in Iran since the revolution.
"I've tasted jail myself: 25 days in solitary confinement with no access to radio, newspapers or lawyer. And I'm not afraid of prison," she said. "I'm a lawyer and familiar with the law. I haven't done anything other than defend human rights in Iran."
Ebadi's center is preparing to step up its attack against the hard-line judiciary's actions. She and her legal partners are expected to protest solitary confinements in a press conference today. Last year, she took the legal brief for the family of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who died in detention in 2003.