Moral Victory

Shirin Ebadi's struggle in defense of human rights


Moral Victory
by Elahe Amani

30 years ago, Dr. Shirin Ebadi, the first female judge in Iranian history, was removed from her post when religious authorities in Iran declared that all women serving in the country as judges were “unfit” to perform their duties. She was then immediately demoted to a position as administrative clerk in the courtroom where she once presided. Dr. Ebadi was hit then by the inequities of women’s rights and inequality in Iran, but she did not let that stop her.

During a time marked by political and religious upheaval, Shirin Ebadi found her path and continued her journey by becoming a human rights advocate and attorney serving the public as she helped those who looked to her to provide counsel on the interpretation of rights under Iranian law.

In 2003, Dr. Ebadi received the Nobel Peace Prize, “for her efforts for democracy and human rights” as she “focused on the struggle for the rights of women and children.” Almost six years later, in Feb 2009, the struggle to defend human rights in Iran continues.

“The issues facing us today are increasingly complex. A certain number of states have ignored the rules of international law to impose relations dominated by force. Domestically, repression is increasingly often gaining the upper hand over the respect of rights and freedoms,” said Ebadi to human rights defenders, FIDH – International Federation of Human Rights.

Over the past years, Ebadi has been the target of threats, arrests and assassination attempts, but she is not slowing down. She keeps moving forward. Today she continues, in spite of recent reversals, to represent victims of human rights injustice and discrimination in Iran.

“I realize that putting so much store in political dialogue seems overly optimistic, given the gulf that exists between the West’s expectations of Iran and the Iranian system’s inclination to compromise. I focus on the political process not because I imagine we will refashion a new relationship around the negotiating table anytime soon but because I see no other options ahead. Iran, for its part, must peacefully transition to a democratic government that represents the will of the majority of Iranians,” said Ebadi in her 2006 book, “Iran Awakening.”

Now at the age of 61, her life is in more danger than ever. A sentence for “death” has recently been written by vandals on the walls outside her home and office in Tehran and pinned on her door. But the fearless Iranian human rights lawyer has a deep conviction that, “When you believe in the correctness of your work, there is no reason to be afraid of anything.”

Leaving the Iranian Islamic State religion is a serious crime in Iran called “apostasy” and being accused of this “crime” cannot be taken lightly. “The penalty for apostasy Kofr (infidelity, blasphemy) under the Iranian criminal code is death,” states Section 5, Article 225-1 of the pending Iran State Penal Code.

The drive to formally include apostasy laws and to enact “justice” under the penal code has caused “deep concern” at the United Nations. On the Oct 30, 2008 UN General Assembly session, the Assembly expressed concern about Iran’s “increasing discrimination and other human rights violations against persons belonging to religious, ethnic, linguistic or other minorities.” Groups recognized as suffering under the report include Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds, Christians, Jews, Sufis and Sunni Muslims, as well as Baha’is and their defenders.

“Particular attacks on Baha’is and their faith in State-sponsored media, increasing evidence of efforts by the State to identify and monitor Baha’is, preventing members of the Baha’i faith from attending university and from sustaining themselves economically,” along with Baha’i arrests, were also highlighted in the General Assembly report.

Under government scrutiny and the implication in pending Iranian law on the charges of “apostasy,” Shirin Ebadi and her daughter are clearly facing personal danger with a looming and dangerously real sentence of death.

She and her daughter promptly denounced the false accusation in public when Ebadi said, “Threats against my life and security and those of my family, which began some time ago, have intensified.” An anonymous, handwritten threat that Ebadi has received during this time says, “Shirin Ebadi, your death is near.”

Oct 2008 threats and harassment against Ms. Ebadi also escalated while she was in Germany receiving the “Tolerance Prize” from the Protestant Academy of Tutzing. While receiving the prize, the IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency warned Ebadi that she was not in favour with Iran’s government officials. They went on to explain, that Ebadi was exploiting Iran’s government authority’s “patience and tolerance.”

“This (Tolerance Prize) award was ‎bestowed on her because of her remarks that are contrary to the interests of the Iranian ‎nation,” stated the IRNA.

Since the revolution, 30 yrs ago, the population of Iran has doubled. Some 70 percent of all Iranians are the same age, or younger than, those who took part in the revolution. Today, these youth are eager to just “live their lives” and be part of the global community. Out of two million students attending higher education, more than 60% today are women. 30 years ago, of the 100,000 students attending institutions of higher education in Iran, only 17.5% were females.

Seven months after the Iranian revolution ended, prominent Iranian poet, Ahmad Shamloo, summed up the feeling of the Iranian people when he wrote,

In This Dead-end

They smell your breath.
You better not have said, “I love you.”
They smell your heart.
These are strange times, darling…
And they flog love
at the roadblock.
We had better hide love in the closet…
In this crooked dead end and twisting chill,
they feed the fire
with the kindling of song and poetry.
Do not risk a thought.
These are strange times, darling…
He who knocks on the door at midnight
has come to kill the light.
We had better hide light in the closet…
Those there are butchers
stationed at the crossroads
with bloody clubs and cleavers.
These are strange times, darling…
And they excise smiles from lips
and songs from mouths.
We had better hide joy in the closet…
Canaries barbecued
on a fire of lilies and jasmine,
these are strange times, darling…
Satan drunk with victory
sits at our funeral feast.
We had better hide God in the closet.

The leadership, creativity and utilization of communication technology by the young women of Iran is setting a vibrant and energetic example for other global social movements. Iran women are now heralding a new global 21st century women’s emancipation. While in western society, young women are often hesitant to claim the identity, or even use the word “feminism,” feminism in Iran has become commonplace in the discourse. Feminism is considered neither taboo nor dreadful. The creation of online human rights journals, “The Feminist School” and “Campaign for Equality” are two examples of this expanding trend.

Even as a majority of women receive higher education in Iran today, 30 years after the revolution, women still constitute only 15% of the formal paid labor force. According to the results of the 1385/2006 Iranian census, only 3.5 million Iranian women are salaried workers, compared with 23.5 million men. Female share of the labor force is less than 20%, considerably below the world average of 45%.

Slightly over half of all teachers in Iran today are women, but the proportion of female university teaching staff is only 20%, less than that of Algeria (41%), Tunisia (40%), Turkey (38%), and Bahrain (36%). To top this off, less than 4% of employed women are found in senior, executive or managerial positions.

The Campaign Against Stoning and All Forms of Violence against Women, The White Scarves Campaign – fighting against gender segregation in Iran stadiums and Kanoon Zanan are all part of a 30 year transcript of a nation where women will no longer take the back seat and accept the inferior position in society. Iranian women writers, novelists, journalists, publishers and movie directors are defining and redefining gender roles and gender relations on a daily basis.

In a 21st century re-interpretation of 14th century Sharia law the Iranian people, and Iranian women in particular, are claiming moral victory and the beginning of real legitimacy.


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by Benyamin on

In my opinion if Ms. Shirin Ebadi gets killed in any violent form the IRI will get suffered ten folds. It is in the intrest of the IRI to keep her safe and make sure those that harassing her to go away and find a cave!

We have tollerated a lot but there are some things that just CROSS the line, and harming or killing her is one of those.


Thanks Shirin.

by Samir (not verified) on

The last 30 years of Iran have been the years of shame, injustce , cruelty and crime. A govenment that ashames any unbiased and fair Iranian . This sad period surely shall be remembered eternally as among the darkest in the history of Glorious Persia.
Shirin Ebadi is among a few outstanding lights and sources of hope and dignity of Iranian soul that illumined Iran and the world with her brave and courageous life in protection of Human Rights.
We are eternally thankful to her.


Thank you Elahe for reminding us of our better angels.

by barbecuedCanaries (not verified) on

She always has been morally victorious, because of her moral standing. But, I do not see how she is predicting a “peacefully transition to a democratic government that represents the will of the majority of Iranians”. There is no compatibility between theocracy and democracy. This transition is not possible within the current IRI constitution or political process.

Also, the good news about “Iranian women writers, novelists, journalists, publishers and movie directors are defining and redefining gender roles and gender relations on a daily basis” may be significant as far as women getting their fair share of the limited domain of authority of the Iranian men writers, novelists, journalists, publishers and movie directors. But, not as far as any fundamental change toward the transition to a democratic government that represents the will of the majority of Iranians.

To be honest with you I am not even sure if a democratic government does represent the will of the majority of Iranians.