Iran has declared as "illegal" a human rights group headed by Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi and vowed to prosecute its continued activities, local media reported on Saturday.
"As the group calling itself 'Defenders of Human Rights Centre' has not obtained a permit from the interior ministry, its activities are illegal and the violators of this decision will be prosecuted," interior ministry was quoted as saying by the centrist Shargh newspaper.
But Ebadi, quoting Iran's constitution, responded that her centre did not require a permit.
"Non-governmental organisations that observe the law and do not disrupt public safety do not need a permit. So the... Centre does not need authorisation".
She added the group had nonetheless applied for a permit, which the interior ministry would not issue and would not explain why it refused.
"We will protest the interior ministry decision and we will try all legal options to obtain our rights," Ebadi said, adding that this "move is not in Iran's national interest".
Formed by six prominent lawyers and headed by Ebadi, the group has been an active advocate of human and minority rights in the Islamic republic for the past four years.
Defending high-profile dissidents and prisoners of conscience, the group usually criticises the Islamic regime for what it sees as "violations of human rights".
One of the centre's members, Abdolfattah Soltani, has been sentenced to five years in jail on charges of disclosing confidential information and opposing the regime.