Nobel laureate overshadowed by football star in Iranian press

The one and only Mahdavikia

TEHRAN (AFP) - Only one Islamic conservative daily opted to publish a photograph of Iran's Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi flouting hardliners' warnings by refusing to wear a veil at the Oslo award ceremony

But news that a Germany-based Iranian athlete had won Asia's footballer of the year award, stole the front pages, eclipsing Wednesday's prize-giving ceremony.

The English-language, reformist Iran News daily splashed on sportsman Mehdi Mahdavikia's achievement and opted to tuck a photo of the bare-headed 56-year-old jurist at the bottom of the front page below the fold.

Jomhouri-Eslami was the only hardline daily to carry a photograph of the unveiled Nobel laureate, full of indignation at her decision to flout Islamic maxims and over her 1.4-million-dollar prize money.

"Twelve billion rials For Shirin Ebadi account" shrieked the paper, after the lawyer said she would use the money for human rights groups in Iran.

Jomhouri-Eslami was also outraged by the performance of a traditional Kurdish music group, including a woman singing a solo, something forbidden in the Islamic republic.

Iran's other conservative dailies, Ressalat, Jam-e-Jam, Siassat-e-Rouz, chose to ignore the events in Oslo altogether.

Even their reformist rivals played it safe, deterred by the backlash that erupted after Ebadi appeared veil-less in front of the world's cameras in Paris when she was declared Nobel Peace Prize winner on October 10.

Etemad avoided any flak by publishing an archive photograph of the lawyer wearing a headscarf, while Mehdi Mahdavikia ran with: "Two Prizes, Two Achievements For Iran," referring also to the footballer's win.

Yase-e-No published a panoramic shot of the ceremony, while Shargh carried a close-up of Ebadi's diploma.

Ashti chopped a picture of the Nobel committee chairman awarding the medal to Ebadi, slyly removing the recipient from view.

The gloss of the occasion was also eclipsed by the historic meeting between Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (news - web sites) and his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak (news - web sites) at an information technology summit in Geneva.

But the reformist press gave wide coverage to Ebadi's speech defending Islam and human rights as mutually compatible, with many of them re-printing her address in full.

"There is no alternative to the respect of human rights," read the headline in Yas-e-No, quoting Ebadi.

The government-owned, reformist Iran lead on Ebadi's criticism of the United States for allegedly violating international law and human rights in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

But in a nod to hardline conservatives, it also charged that the Nobel committee chairman who praised Ebadi as a defender of human rights and symbol of democracy in Iran had "close relations with Zionist circles".