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A Nobel Winner Writes Of Peace In 'The Golden Cage'

Apr 22, 2011 (All Things Considered)

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Shirin Ebadi is an Iranian lawyer, a former judge and human-rights activist and founder of Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. On Oct. 10, 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

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"If you can't eliminate injustice, at least tell everyone about it." That quote opens and closes Shirin Ebadi's new book, The Golden Cage: Three Brothers, Three Choices, One Destiny. Ebadi is the Iranian human-rights lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. In her new book, a nonfiction work, she tells the story of the Iranian Revolution through three brothers: a monarchist, an anarchist and a revolutionary Islamist. All three met tragic ends.

Ebadi spoke with Robert Siegel, via a translator, on All Things Considered.

Of the three brothers in the book, one was executed in prison and other two left Iran — one was executed in exile, presumably at the behest of Iran. Five years ago on All Things Considered, Ebadi herself spoke about why she didn't choose to leave Iran. She said, "I'm Iranian, I belong to Iran, and I work for Iran so I have to be in Iran." Since then, she has left the country. Here, she explains why.

"One day prior to the elections of 2009, I left Iran to participate in a seminar in Spain," she says. "Four days later when I had concluded my seminar, Iran was not the country I had left. People had taken to the streets; many were arrested, many were killed. So my colleagues recommended that instead of going back to Iran I should go to the United Nations and tell the world what was going on in Iran. Working on human-rights issues has become almost impossible in Iran.

"And I want to talk about one of my colleagues," she continues, "who left his home 16 days ago and has disappeared. His accusation in court was having cooperated with me and with my center, though the judgment has not been finalized yet. We don't know what has happened to him."

Ebadi explains that in Iran today, cooperating with her is considered a criminal charge.

"Unfortunately that's true. He has received nine years for having cooperated with me," she says.

Ebadi contends that Iran could erupt into an uprising similar to those in other countries earlier this year, though many argue that Iran already did that following the presidential election of 2009.

"The green movement has not come to an end," she says. "All those who oppose the government, with different ideologies, are in this movement. Iran is like fire under the ashes."

This year, in Tunisia, there were obvious similarities to what happened in Iran in the '70s — broad opposition to a dictator amid great optimism. So what does Ebadi believe is the lesson in Iran's story that the people of Tunisia can learn from?

"The lesson that they can learn is that it is not enough to oust a dictator. What we need when we replace a dictator is a democracy. In Iran, unfortunately, we replaced one dictator by another one, a religious dictator."

When asked about the quotation that she begins her book with — "If you can't eliminate injustice, at least tell everyone about it" — Ebadi says that it has become something of a guiding principle.

"This has taken over all of my life. To give you an example, when I am in court and I am defending someone, when I'm frustrated and I get out, I talk to everyone. And I tell everyone about what went on in the courts."

Ebadi says that despite the difficulties in her native country, she refuses to give up or stop speaking the truth about injustice.

"I don't have the right to get tired or to lose hope. Please remember that the duty of a human-rights defender is to work when things are not that good, because when things are good, I wouldn't have a job. I wouldn't have anything to do."

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