Shirin Ebadi was an educated Iranian nationalist, a judge in the Tehran city court, who welcomed the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah. When the new Islamic regime solidified its power, it fired her from her post, relegating her to the secretarial pool. For a decade, she could not work in her field, but was finally permitted to practice law again in 1993. For the next decade, she argued for human rights, most especially for improved legal status for women, children and refugees, all within an Islamic legal framework. She was jailed and heavily pressured. Ebadi gained so much international notice that she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. The prize afforded her work some degree of protection from a hostile state and enabled her to travel widely.
This volume describes the closing down of space for human rights work in Iran after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 and her involuntary exile after his disputed re-election in 2009.
Over and over, Ebadi tried to maintain that "human rights" efforts did not mean that she was a political dissident. Her cause was the rule of law within the Iranian nation. She certainly did not aim to be an agent of the Iran's Western enemies, but the government could see her through no other lens.
And this determined woman would not give up. She defended members of the Bahai faith who the Iranian clerical state considers traitorous apostates from their version of Islam, worthy of prison or death. She exposed the death penalty for children; she protested torture and illegal imprisonment of people who the regime declared enemies. And she was hard to silence because the Nobel had given her international standing.
And so, the state looked for ways to reach into what she held dear, her family -- and thus to break her will to keep agitating for the rule of law. The story builds toward the Iranian intelligence service's great triumph: drawing her loved husband of three decades into a "honey trap" (an illicit liaison) and forcing him through shame and then torture to denounce her work on video. The ending is dramatic, but I found the one of the episodes on the way to that horrible end most illuminating.
Ebadi recognized that she was the target when the authorities seized her daughter's passport and summoned the young woman for interrogation. She explained was happening to her daughter Nargess and husband Javad.
Nargess took up her mother's perspective; she was willing to fight. The test came when the authorities summoned the daughter for questioning on a day when Ebadi was supposed to fly to an overseas seminar.
Ebadi flew; the officials handed her passport back to Nargess. And so the state eventually went after her husband, then her sister, and a through a legal pretext, the family's property, forcing Ebadi into lonely permanent exile in London. She's not crushed though; hence this terrible telling of their tale.
All the more reason to listen sympathetically to others, like Shirin Ebadi, stuck in the same painful place, defending values that seem to have no home base.