Former Iranian judge tells her story

The Virginia Gazette

In her new book, "Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran," Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner, writes: "In August 2009, I was betrayed by both my husband and my country."

Ebadi is no stranger to Williamsburg. She visited here in 2006 to deliver a lecture at the College of William and Mary on "Islam, Human Rights, and Democracy." She didn't mince words.

In an interview with the Gazette, she reflected on her personal journey from being the first female judge in Iran to becoming a key figure in the reformist movement and a thorn in the side of the Iranian regime dominated by an unelected radical Shiite clergy.

When I asked her what made her into such a fearless defender of human rights, she recalled that as a child of a prominent lawyer who defended victims of the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, she developed a keen awareness of right and wrong, of the importance of justice. She became the first female judge in Iran. But, following the Islamic revolution in 1979, she was forced to resign.

Married to an engineer, with two grown daughters, she became a defense lawyer who was willing to take on politically sensitive cases that other attorneys were afraid to touch.

Neither did she shy away from expressing her views on subjects that are anathema to the Iranian Revolutionary regime. "Nuclear weapons are dangerous to the world. Even in the hands of democratic nations such as France, where the people watch over what their government does. But nuclear weapons in the hands of undemocratic regimes are very dangerous."

Her outspokenness, while giving lectures around the world, carried the risk of being jailed on her return to Iran. But, she always returned. That is, until her last trip abroad in 2009, as detailed in her book.

She and her younger daughter, Nargess, went to visit her older daughter, Negar, in Atlanta. From there, she spoke on the phone with her husband, Javad, several times a week. But suddenly, she couldn't reach him. Finally, Javad called: "Shirin, I don't know if you can forgive me," she recalled he said.

He confessed to have succumbed to temptation. "We were embracing in the bedroom when suddenly the door burst open."

He told Shirin that an Iranian intelligence agent and two cameramen came into the room. They have recorded everything, and a few minutes later the apartment was full of agents. Javad was blindfolded and handcuffed and taken to the notorious Evin Prison to be interrogated. Because he had been caught drinking alcohol, his bare back was lashed. On the third day of his imprisonment he was led to a courtroom where a bearded cleric-judge told him: "You are a married man and have committed adultery. According to Article 225 of the Islamic Penal Code, you are sentenced to death by stoning. The sentence will be carried out in two days."

Soon, the reason for entrapping Javad in an extramarital affair, his arrest and sentence of death by stoning: The chief intelligence agent told Javad: "Now Ebadi can see the result of her activities. I warned her so many times. I told her, 'You need to shut up. But she never listened.'"

Javad was offered a deal. If he would publicly denounce his wife as a supporter of the West, particularly of America, who did not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, the death sentence would be lifted. Next day, shaven, sitting in a staged living room, he denounced his wife.

But what hurt Ebadi even more, was her husband's confession that in order to overturn the stoning sentence for adultery, he and the woman he had slept with had to go to a cleric for a certificate of temporary marriage, backdated by five years.

After more than six agonizing years, while Shirin was living in America, she and Javad agreed to divorce,

Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and on Amazon.com

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