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Iranian officials shut down event at rights center

Raiding officers claimed to have a court order, one witness said. No arrests were made.

TEHRAN, Iran - Security officials shut down the office of the country's leading rights defenders yesterday as activists and lawyers gathered there to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Officers raided Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi's Center for the Defense of Human Rights in Tehran and told the gathering they had a court order banning any ceremony.

The officers refused to show a paper copy of the order, said Mohammad-Ali Dadkhah, a Tehran human-rights lawyer who defends journalists, activists and others accused of political crimes.

"Anyway, we called it a day and wrapped up the gathering," he said.

No one was arrested, witnesses said.

Ebadi told Agence France-Presse by telephone that the incident would have no effect on the group's work. "Obviously such a move does not have a positive message for other rights activists in Iran, but my colleagues and I will fulfill our duties under any circumstances," she told the news agency.

Event organizers were planning to give a human-rights award to longtime political dissident Taqi Rahmani, a 49-year-old writer who has spent 14 years in prison since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In a telephone interview, he said that bolstering human rights in a country like Iran is a slow, painstaking process.

"As long as we have no civil society, no genuine reform or political development can take place," he said.

Amid a confrontation between Iran and the West over Tehran's efforts to enrich uranium, Iran's human-rights record recently has reemerged as a matter of international attention. The European Union on Friday issued a statement noting recent "unacceptable" violations, including the simultaneous Nov. 26 executions of 10 criminals and legal moves against women's-rights activists, a noted blogger and a leading trade unionist.