Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi On An Iranian Family's Tragedy

Shirin Ebadi ©Jeffrey Henson Scales/HSP Archive

The enormity of the human rights violations suffered by the people of Iran over the past several decades is almost impossible for the ordinary person to comprehend.  Both prior to and after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, thousands of people were killed, thousands more tortured and broken in prison, while hundreds of thousands were driven into exile from a country and families they loved.

The brutal repression of more than thirty years is movingly condensed into the story of one family’s tragedy in a new book by Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, called The Golden Cage. While reading the book, we are constantly reminded that its courageous author is herself living in forced exile, away from her family; the personal loss she feels, though not explicitly noted, is nonetheless keenly perceived.


Nobel Laureate's Lawyer is Risking Her Life–Let's Save Her

Nasrin Sotoudeh

Update 11/9/10: See my important follow-up to this post here

We have been watching with horror as the Iranian government stomps on the bravest of the country’s human rights defenders—the lawyers who struggle mightily to do the best they can to represent their clients accused of politically motivated offenses in a hopelessly flawed legal system.

One of the very bravest of this dedicated group is Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was the attorney for Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, as well as other courageous human rights activists and juveniles sentenced to death. Now Nasrin Sotoudeh, a mother of two young children, is sitting in prison on her second hunger strike to protest her detention and this already slight lady is reportedly very frail.

We can’t afford to lose this incredible woman so I urge everyone to join me on a hunger strike to protest this gross injustice. I am not as courageous as Nasrin Sotoudeh but I will try to hold out as long as possible on liquids.  I urge anyone whose health permits it to go on a hunger strike for at least one day and tell everyone about it—put it on your Facebook page, add your name in the comments section to this blog posting—we need to stand up for Ms Sotoudeh and say to the Iranian government that enough is just enough.


Iran Global Day of Action a Resounding Success

Protests in more than 80 countries, with numbers ranging from a couple hundred to several thousand, took to the streets on Saturday to stand in solidarity with the Iranian people against the government’s brutal crackdown this summer. Among the 1,000 people in Amsterdam was Iran’s Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi who led the crowd in chanting: “We want to live in peace. Long live peace”.

The event will hopefully force the Iranian authorities to display greater transparency regarding election results and provide those imprisoned with their human rights.

“Our message is very simple,” [Aaron Rhodes, an event organizer] said. “We’re supporting civil and human rights in Iran and we’re calling upon the government in Iran to cease their abuse of power, cease the imprisonment of innocent people and the torture of detainees and stop the violence against people who are simply trying to exercise their internationally protected human right to peacefully protest.”

Back in Tehran, opposition leaders Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Khatami urged the country’s clerics to intervene to help stop the spread of “oppression” by the authorities. They accused the government of “savagery” and that its “interrogation methods are a reminder of the dark era of the Shah”, who ruled until 1979.

Below are some videos from the various rallies across the world:

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Global Day of Action for Iran this Saturday

On July 25, people in more than 60 cities across the world will be standing in solidarity with the Iranian people in their struggle for human rights. Protesters in Iran continue to experience brutality on the city streets while the number of arrests steadily rises– the latest being the detainment of opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi’s brother-in-law, Shapour Kazemi.

The global day of action, organized by United4Iran, is organized around the following four core demands:

  1. That member states and civil society organizations of the international community give sustained attention to the Iranian people’s human rights as a matter of international concern, and that the UN should immediately initiate an investigation into grave and systematic human rights violations in Iran, including the fate of prisoners and disappeared persons, unlawful killings, and torture and other ill-treatment;
  2. An end to state-sponsored violence, accountability for crimes committed and no recourse to the death penalty.
  3. The immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, including politicians, journalists, students, and civil society activists; and
  4. Freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of expression (including freedom of the press) as guaranteed by the Iranian constitution and Iran’s obligations under international covenants that it has signed.

Supporters include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi, Sean Penn, Dariush, Jody Williams, Betty Williams, Mairead Maguire, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Simin Behbahani, Reza Aslan and Ismael Khoi. Dariush will actually be performing at the rally in DC!

Attend an event near you! Visit for a complete listing.

San Diego, California

Rally time: July 24, 6-8pm
Rally location: Balboa Park, (1900 Park Blvd., San Diego, CA, 92101) at the corner of President’s way, on the lawn
More information:
Contact: Stephanie Hanson at 760-230-2936,

San Francisco, California

Rally time: July 25, 12pm-4pm
Rally location: City Hall
More information:

Chicago, Illinois

Speaker: Roxana Saberi

Time: July 25, 12 noon
Place: Federal Plaza, Dearborn and Adams
Rally time: Noon
Rally location: Federal Plaza at Dearborn and Adams Street in downtown Chicago
More information: Facebook or contact

New York, New York

Rally time: July 25, 12:30pm
Rally location: Starts at Times Square, 41st and 7th Avenue. There will then be a march to the United Nations.

Washington DC

DC event on July 25 will be in 3 parts:

Part one: Demonstration @ UN Office
Start at 4:00pm, corner of 18th+K. We have requested road closure from DCDOT. Signs, slogans, use of bullhorns.

Part two: March to Rally
March starts at 5:15pm, East on K st one block, South on 17th st (march past WH w/o stopping), Enter Constitutional Gardens at 17th + Constitution St.

Part three: Rally at National Mall Constitution Gardens (on 19th + Constitution)
Jody Williams, Nobel Laureate
Mehrangiz Kar, Human Rights Lawyer
Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch, Deputy Director of Middle East and North Africa Division
Parisa Saeb, Human Rights Activist
Dariush, Prominent Iranian Singer and Social Activist

For more information, contact

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Iran: Release Soltani

Abdolfattah Soltani was arrested at his office in central Tehran, at around four in the afternoon, on 16 June by four plainclothes security officials. The officials, who did not have a search warrant, a summons or arrest warrant, carried out a search of his office. They confiscated his files, his briefcase, his computers and his mobile phone before taking him away.

Abdolfattah Soltani is a member of the Center for the Defense of Human Rights which Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Shirin Ebadi and many other leading human rights activists founded in 2002. It was forcibly closed in December 2008 shortly before the center was to hold an event commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The CHRD, whose members continue to work under the name of the center, has three stated roles: reporting violations of human rights in Iran; providing free legal representation to political prisoners; and supporting the families of political prisoners.

Abdolfattah Soltani was represented the cases of prisoner of conscience Akbar Ganji, an investigative reporter who uncovered the still unpunished complicity of various governmentofficials in the murder of intellectuals and journalists in the 1990s, and the family of Zahra Kazemi,an Iranian-Canadian journalist who died in custody in Evin prison in July 2003. In Zahra Kazemi’s case, a Ministry of Intelligence official was tried and acquitted of her ‘semi-intentional’ murder. Hehad been considered a scapegoat for a senior judicial figure, and following the acquittal, Kazemi’s family, represented by Abdolfattah Soltani, appealed to the Supreme Court, to launch a newinvestigation into her death in custody.

Mr. Soltani was arrested in 2005 and spent 219 days in detention, of which 43 were in solitary confinement. In July 2006 he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment by Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court for “disclosing confidential documents,” for which he received a sentence of four years; and one year’s imprisonment for “propaganda against the system.” The evidential basis for the charges brought against Abdolfattah Soltani was reportedly not made clear in the charge sheet or by the prosecution during the trial. According to reports, the verdict was issued with neither Abdolfattah Soltani nor his lawyers being summoned to court to hear it, and they were not given a copy of the verdict. Of his trial and the verdict, he said, “Neither me nor my lawyers were called for the court session mentioned in the verdict. We were unable to defend my case because we never saw the main evidence listed in the indictment.”

Abdolfattah Soltani has stated “my crime is accepting political cases including cases of journalists, students, and two nuclear defendants, otherwise, I did not break the law. They are trying to treat me in a way so that no other lawyer would accept political cases.”

To take action on his case, click here

Ominous message from the Iranian Supreme Leader

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran

Today, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, spoke to the crowd at the weekly Friday Prayer and made what many have interpreted as a warning to those opposing the contested election results to cease their public protests or else face possible severe reprisals. The reprisals in question have been viewed as thinly veiled references to violence by government agents and Basij, or paramilitaries. The Supreme Leader said that opposition leaders would be held responsible for any bloodshed that resulted from the banned opposition rallies.

Although the protests in the streets in the first few days after the elections were met with attacks by baton-wielding riot police on motorcycles, and on Monday by deadly indiscriminate shooting into the crowd that left up to seven people fatally wounded and many more injured, the massive street protests since Monday have been largely peaceful, although random violence carried out by vigilantes and Basij have been reported.

Human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani is one of the activists who have been arrested in the aftermath of election protests in Iran.

Human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani is one of the activists who have been arrested in the aftermath of election protests in Iran.

The Iranian authorities have conducted their severest repressive measures in the form of mass detentions of journalists, students, opposition politicians and human rights activists. Among those arrested are human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, a close associate of Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and a member of the Center for Human Rights Defenders.

However it has been an open question to what extent the Iranian authorities would be willing to unleash the full force of its military and riot police against the vast numbers of protesters in the streets. The potential for such use of violence to result in large-scale bloodshed is alarming.

Amnesty International has expressed concern that an opposition rally that is said to be planned for tomorrow may be met with the use of excessive violence. We urge the authorities to respect the right of the Iranian people to engage in the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association.

Written by Elise Auerbach, AIUSA Iranian country specialist

Iranian Women Fight for their Rights

Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi

As International Women’s Day approaches on March 8th, it’s time to recognize the struggles and achievements of women’s rights activists around the world.  One of the most vibrant women’s rights movements is in Iran, where every day courageous women risk their freedom and safety to fight for their rights.  While most use peaceful means to end discriminatory treatment of women in Iranian family law, they face increasing persecution from the Iranian government: Women are routinely arrested, imprisoned, threatened and banned from traveling abroad.

Even the most prominent women’s rights activist in Iran, lawyer and 2003 Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, is not immune to this mistreatment.  She has been repeatedly threatened in government-controlled media in recent months and the Defenders of Human Rights Center, that she operates to provide legal assistance to victims of human rights violations, was forcibly shut down by the government last December and her papers and computers seized.

Why is the Iranian government so afraid of its own women citizens calling for equal rights? The government trots out preposterous charges against them such as “acting against national security through propaganda against the state.” How can women walking around a mountainous area north of Tehran to collect petition signatures possibly undermine the state?  How could Alieh Eghdamdoust, recently taken into custody and forced to start serving a three-year prison sentence for participating in a peaceful demonstration in June 2006, possibly be a threat to the security of Iran?

As the Iran country specialist for Amnesty International USA I am constantly challenged on how to craft actions and mobilize activist to combat this disproportionate and seemingly irrational repression of non-violent human rights defenders. And like many human rights activists, I am often frustrated and confounded.  But I am also always inspired by the unrelenting courage and pluckiness of women activists in Iran.  When asked by the judge at her trial why she participated in the demonstration, Alieh Eghdamdoust replied to the judge, “You should participate as well.  Why didn’t you defend your daughters and wife’s rights by attending the legal peaceful gathering?”

I think of Ms. Eghdamdoust’s spirited response as International Women’s Day approaches and I ask you to take action to support our sister activists in Iran.  Please write to the Iranian government and call for an end to the harassment of peaceful women’s rights activists in Iran.  Thank you all and please let us know what actions you have taken and any suggestions you have.