By Adrian Croft
LONDON (Reuters) - Iranian Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi believes Iran's rulers will one day be overthrown even though a crackdown there has prevented the kind of uprising seen in the Arab world.
Iran has crushed attempts to reignite Green movement protests that erupted after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, even as protests have swept presidents from power in Egypt and Tunisia and sparked violence in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.
Ebadi, a human rights lawyer who was the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel peace prize in 2003, said Iran's Green movement had not been beaten and said the country wanted to avoid the sort of conflict that has engulfed Libya.
"It has in fact become stronger, because the movement is made up of dissidents and the number of dissidents is growing every day," Ebadi told Reuters in an interview.
Widespread human rights violations and the deteriorating economy were swelling the ranks of dissidents but protests had lessened "because anyone who takes to the street is killed or arrested," Ebadi said, speaking through an interpreter.
"The Iranian people are trying to maintain peaceful protests, which is why so far they have refused to take up arms ... The Iranian people do not want Iran to become another Libya," she said.
Nevertheless, Iran's rulers have been shaken by the Arab spring and Ebadi believes they will eventually be ousted.
"Yes definitely this regime will be overthrown, but it is not easy to predict when," she said.
Attempts to reignite Green protests in Iran in February were stifled by a huge police turnout, the death by shooting of two people during a February 14 protest, and the unofficial house arrest that has silenced the movement's leaders.
Shirin said a power struggle was under way between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, referring to xxx.
"There are even differences between the Supreme Leader and the president, between parliament and the president. All these disputes are in fact weakening the regime even more," she said.
Meanwhile, the human rights situation in Iran was deteriorating rapidly, Ebadi said, welcoming the recent appointment of a United Nations human rights investigator on Iran.
Ebadi raised concerns about the "appalling condition of political prisoners" held by Iran, saying they were put in solitary confinement "when they make the slightest protest."
"The government has never announced any figures on how many are in prison. What we know, we know through the families of these prisoners who have voluntarily told us about it and there are many whose families don't dare tell anyone that they are in prison," she said.
"Even after they execute some political prisoners, they summon the families of those prisoners and warn them not to grant interviews to any foreign media," said Ebadi, who herself spent 25 days in solitary confinement in a Tehran prison in 2000 as a result of one of her cases.
Ebadi, 63, was in London to promote her new book, "The Golden Cage," being published in Britain on July 15 by Kales Press. It tells the story of a family torn apart by the 1979 Iranian revolution and political upheavals.
Ebadi, Iran's first woman judge, lost that job following the Islamic revolution because the country's new leaders said women were too emotional to be judges. She became a human rights lawyer but, after suffering harassment, left the country in 2009 and now lives in exile in the United States.
Ebadi said the United States and other Western countries should not let their nuclear dispute with Iran outweigh human rights concerns.
"I've always said that the issue of nuclear energy must not overshadow human rights ... I think that the existence of a non-democratic country is a greater threat to international peace than even nuclear weapons," she said.
Western nations have imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, which Tehran says is peaceful but the West fears is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft)