Nazila Fathi, a former New York Times reporter in Tehran for more than a decade, is the author of “The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran.”
In January 2009, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi was in her Tehran office when she heard her name. “Death to the traitor Ebadi,” angry men were shouting outside. Immediately, she locked the doors of the building and fled upstairs to her apartment, where her husband, Javad Tavassolian, was standing by the window, watching a mob carrying sticks and banners on the street. With trembling hands, she dialed the local police. “I think they’re here to kill me,” she heard herself say — finally uttering the words she had avoided since she began her activism in the 1990s. She knew why many in Iran reviled her. For more than two decades, she had criticized the country’s discriminatory laws and defended the most controversial political prisoners pro bono.
In “Until We Are Free,” Ebadi recounts the cycle of sinister assaults she faced after she won the Nobel Prize in 2003. Her new memoir, written as a novel-like narrative, captures the precariousness of her situation and her determination to “stand firm.”
The 1979 Islamic revolution stripped Ebadi of her judgeship when the new authorities banned women from holding the position, forcing her to stay home and raise her two daughters. A decade later, she opened a law firm and became vocal against the country’s statutes that discriminate against women and others. One blatant example is a law that puts the value of a woman’s life or a non-Muslim’s life at half that of a Muslim man’s life. When an 11-year-old girl named Leila was raped and murdered by three men, a court ruled that her parents had to pay a substantial amount to have the men executed or they would be released, because their lives were worth more than Leila’s. Ebadi took the case and threw a national spotlight on the state of criminal law in Iran.
The 2003 Nobel Prize elevated her status but didn’t stop the regime from going after her even more ruthlessly after the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. Government spies followed her, harassed her colleagues and even nailed death threats to her door.
To intimidate her, two intelligence officers disguised as tax agents barged into Ebadi’s office, demanding to search the place. The local police, whom she contacted again for assistance, watched helplessly as the two men carried away clients’ files just a few weeks before the mob attack...
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