Shirin Ebadi voted Iranian of the year
March 24, 2004
Iranian.com readers have voted Nobel Peace
Prize winner Shirin Ebadi as the Iranian of the Year [See poll
results, also see previous
Iranians of the year].
Here are a few short audio clips from Ebadi (thanks
to Mahdiyeh Javid) followed by a piece published
in the "Iranian
Feminist Newsletter" badjens.com,
after she won the Nobel.
mp3 audio clips
* Hoghoogh-e Bashar
* Jaayezeh Nobel (2)
Shortly after Shirin Ebadi was released from
prison three years ago , she gave an interview that was
the feminist journal, Jens-e Dovom. Bad
Jens translated the interview
it in its fourth edition. Several months later, a member of Bad
Jens had a scary encounter with authorities and in the
panic that ensued, the article was mistakenly removed from the
site. In light
of Ms. Ebadi's recent Nobel Peace Prize award, we dug up
the interview for your reading pleasure...
An arrested attorney, and her wishes and worries
By Lily Farhadpour
At 6 PM, 28th of June 2000, Shirin Ebadi puts
down the phone, and thinks only
one thing: "Receiving a summons after business hours cannot possibly be
a good sign".
The phone rang again. It was Mehrangiz Kar, who
was her close friend and also her attorney, enquiring about what
had happened. Mehrangiz herself had just been
released from prison a week earlier.
The court officer who came for Shirin had to wait
an hour because she had to inform her husband and brother so they
could accompany her. She also had to tell
her mother to take care of her daughters.
At the station, the questioning did not take long
and the arrangements for her detainment were quickly made. Outside,
there was a car waiting to take
prison for further questioning. She only thought of her brother and husband,
who had to return home to her daughters, and of her mother, who was anxiously
waiting for news. She did not want them to be worrying alone any longer.
From time to time, she would ask: "Have you
told the others that the questioning is over, and that I'm being
transferred to prison?" And the officers would
reply that it was taken care of. Nevertheless, she asked one more time
before getting into the car. And again, they replied the same.
Relieved, she got in.
It was 9:30 pm when the car headed towards Evin prison.
After her release
25 days later, she learned that her husband and brother had been
waiting outside until late for news about her. Upon a great deal
they were finally informed of her transfer from the officer on duty.
I met with Shirin for a short visit, a few days
after the first sentence was passed. The sentence read 15 months
and a ban from practicing
law for 5 years.
She still feels sad when she remembers her waiting
companions on that night and is angry about the officers' breach of promise: "My brother and my
husband waited for me until past midnight. It was 1:30 am when they arrived home.
Imagine what my mother and daughters went through, not having any news until
All of her 25 days of detainment were spent in solitary
confinement, in ward No. 209, one of the women's cells. She was there alone, in absolute silence.
"During detainment", she says, "the
officer's behavior was good, the food was fine enough, and medical
care was accessible - but I was forbidden to
I asked her how her days were spent. "Often,
I would read the mafatih [a
prayer book] which I had taken with me, and I also read the Qoran,
which was already in the cell." After 18 days they allowed her to use the library, "but
the prison library was available only to men. So they chose some
books and brought them to me."
In 1969, Shirin Ebadi applied for a position at
the Ministry of Justice. In 1975, at the age of only 28, she became
the first Iranian
to be appointed
Since 1993, she has worked as an attorney, and has
dealt with a number of important cases, like the one of "Little Arian",
the little girl who died under the abuse of her father and stepmother.
One should also mention the case of Ezatholah Ebrahimnejad,
a young man killed in the "university incident" of July 1999.
The police had searched the universities for students who were
involved in the demonstrations or who
were talking politics. Later, "unknown" paramilitary groups attacked
the students in the presence of police officers.
I asked her how she had become Ebrahimnejad's lawyer.
Shirin explained: "A
few months after the event, I read an interview with Ebrahimnejad's father in
a newspaper. He said he had decided to sell his home to be able to pay a lawyer's
wages. I said to myself, "What kind of place are we living in!", and
I wrote a letter to that newspaper, saying I would accept the case free of charge.
Afterwards, I learned that other lawyers had done the same. But Ebrahimnejad's
family chose me. It was for a simple reason..."
But the reason was not so simple. Indeed it shows
how complicated gender issues are in Iran. Among Ebrahimnejad's
family, only his
case, and she preferred a woman lawyer because she would feel more
because there would be no talking behind her back.
"But the presence of her father", Shirin
continued, "was necessary
for signing the documents. When he came over, I found out he was
still paying the loan he had gotten for his son's university fees.
He said all he now had
was the body of his son on his hands."
When asked about her other cases, she referred to
the Forouhar family, i.e. Darioush and Parvaneh Forouhar, who were
ago by security
is the lawyer of Parastoo and Arash Forouhar [the couple's daughter
and son]. "When
the court announced the sentence", she mentioned, "I thought that
I was done. But then they announced they would allow attorneys
to read all the documents, so my investigation had actually only
Another of Shirin's cases concerned Leila Fathahi,
the eleven year old Kurdish girl who had been savagely raped by
three men. They
killed her and hid
her body, which was found after a week. Shirin explained: "The three men
were arrested, but only one of them confessed, and after a few months he committed
suicide. So the only evidence we had disappeared. The others were condemned to
pay qesas". The law of qesas, which is the penal law used in the Islamic
Republic, is based on the right of the victim or victim's family to demand retribution
from the perpetrator of the crime against them (cf. Women, Work & Islamism,
by Maryam Poya).
"After the suicide, Leila's father was asked to
pay qesas himself. Otherwise, he was told, no one would be punished.
He was forced
to sell all his property,
and for months he spent his nights at the Imam's tomb. But the
sentence was not carried out, because one of the killers escaped,
and the appeals court
acquitted the last of the three, who was released. I tried to reverse
the last sentence, and fortunately, the high court of appeals ruled
in my favor. So now
myself, Leila's family, and the law are all looking for him - among
60 million Iranians – in order to hold a new trial."
When Shirin thinks of the delays her cases have
undergone, she's surprised by the short time it took her own sentence
to be issued.
Accepting such tough cases free of charge is common
in Iran, and Shirin has accepted a number of them:
-- Jame-e salem magazine, which was shut
down two years ago.
-- Abbas Maroofi, editor of Gardoon magazine, shut down about four
years ago (currently in appeals court).
-- Dr. Asadollah Peyman, a political activist.
-- Faraj Sarkohi, editor of Adineh, who was arrested two years
"All of those were free of charge", she explains,
"if I had to pay rent for my office, I wouldn't be able to afford
Her office is located on the lower floor of her
house. I could hear the voices of children playing in a yard during
also head of
an NGO called the National Association in Support of Children's
I asked her to speak about herself a bit more. "When
women were banned from judgeship", she said, "I retired from the
which amounted to starting a career in begging." She applied for
attorneyship, but had to wait eight years for a license. During
that time, she wrote several
books, the first one being about children rights. The book, which
won a prize at Al Zahra University, has been translated into English
by UNICEF. " Before
that", she says, "no one had any idea about children's rights
in Iran. I had to introduce and explain what children's rights are."
She then published a book called Comparing Children's
Rights, in which she compared the Convention on the Rights of the
children's rights in
Iran. "Gradually", she continued, "I became more interested
in human rights issues. I wrote Refugee Rights in Iran followed
by Human Rights History and Documentation in Iran."
The latter was translated at Columbia University,
and was published in the US. Shirin has a number of other books
on law in Iran to
her name. "I'm the
first lawyer who had a book translated into English and published abroad",
she says, "and my book on human rights has become a reference."
But what happened to Shirin prior to her arrest?
In February of 2000, an elderly, retired man came to Shirin's office,
his son's lawyer.
His son had been arrested following the university incident. But
his explanations weren't clear enough, so she didn't accept the
In March, as the judge was about to convene the
trial concerning the incident, Shirin decided to mention the retired
who was representing the student protesters. Soon after, the man
came to Shirin's office again. But this time, his son, Amir Farshad
and Mr. Rohami was in the know, so Shirin accepted.
Two months later,
in June of 2000, Mr. Rohami and Shirin Ebadi were arrested. They
were accused of working against the Islamic
with video recordings of what Amir Farshad Ebrahimi had told them.
In the video,
Ebrahimi, who was facing charges for attacking students, revealed
himself as a member of
the vigilante groups who frequently appeared at gatherings to beat
up students and reformists. He exposed the inner workings of the
and accused influential conservative figures of playing a role
in recent attacks on reformist activists. Shortly after the tape
was made, he was detained by the
judiciary and while in custody, retracted his statements and claimed
the video was a "forced confession".
I asked her: "If your sentence is upheld in the appeals court, you will
be banned from practicing law for five years. What do you intend to do?".
She answered, "I waited for my license to work as an attorney for eight
years, and now, after only seven years of work, they want to deprive me again.
I don't know... perhaps I'll write more books. I want to do research
on human rights and try to secure those rights for my people. My academic duty
is to prove that we can be Muslim and faithful to Islamic tenets while striving
for better laws.... We can also be committed to human rights."
It was sunset when our interview came to an end.
An autumn sunset, melancholic as usual. I could still hear the
voices of children
from the yard. Sometimes,
in a sunset's blinding light, things can't be seen properly. In Shirin's
office, you can see many images of Lady Justice; a bronze statue,
a plaster statue,
and illustrations on book covers laying around Shirin's big,
But I don't know why all the scales were tilted.
goodbye to spam!