Iran Heroine's Sister Is Arrested

"They want to intimidate me," says the Nobel Prize winner

By Shirin Ebadi

Women who are brought to Evin after dark are typically prostitutes. After a second of shock, I realized that the prison guard assumed that this might be the case with me.

"No! What are you talking about? My offense is political!" This reminded me of a joke we used to tell whose punch line was "My crime is political." I started to laugh, which incensed the prison official no end. "Why are you laughing?" he demanded.

"My crime is political," I kept repeating, my laughter bordering on hysteria. He waited for me to compose myself, then looked away in disgust when he saw that I could not.

"Just write down anything, and take her away."

A female guard guided me down a long corridor, to what she called her best cell. It was covered in filth, and the sink had no running water. Dirt and rust rimmed the metal toilet in the corner.

"Is there a better one?" I asked tentatively. He let me peer into three others, and I realized grimly that mine was indeed the best. Unable to work up the courage to go into it, I sat hunched in the corridor. A few female prisoners passed by on the way to washing their dishes. "What are you in for?" they asked.

Blemishing the Revolution

I was in for "blemishing the revolution" by videotaping the testimony of a witness who claimed to have been a member of a violent paramilitary group. (The hard-line forces in Iran used such groups to put down unrest without involving the police.) He had come to my office offering firsthand information about this group, which had carried out a brutal attack on a client of mine. His offer seemed too good to be true — information about paramilitaries is almost impossible to come by. So I taped his testimony even though I suspected it might be a trap. Later I decided I didn’t want the tape in my hands and left it with the office of the deputy interior minister. Shortly afterward, stories about the tape, which I was accused of fabricating, began appearing in the newspapers.

The press dubbed it "the case of the tape makers." So when my fellow prisoners asked what I was in for, I whispered, "The tape makers."

"Really? What was it called?" one woman asked. "How much did you get paid? Was the director nice?"

"Oh my goodness," I thought, "they think I’m here for making a porn movie."

A bit later, the prison doctor stopped by to measure my blood pressure. When he left, clanging the door behind him, I gazed at the pocked, stained walls of my cell and felt all of the anxiety of the previous weeks slowly ebbing away. I had no recourse to anyone or anything, I realized, except God. "I’ve done everything I could do," I whispered, "and now it’s Your turn." Then I made a pillow out of my bag, pulled my chador over me, and fell asleep.

My Second Day in Evin

The clank of the metal breakfast tray woke me up. A piece of bread, a small square of salty cheese, and some tea. A guard rapped on my door and summoned me to be properly checked in. She tossed me a prison chador — blue, with a mocking pattern of the scales of justice — and told me to follow her. Down in the administrative office, they fingerprinted me, hung a numbered tag around my head, and took mug shots. One of the guards asked me, "So what do you play?" In Iran, when someone is arrested, their house is also raided for evidence. Since some of the ayatollahs consider playing musical instruments immoral, I thought they had found the girls’ piano or my husband’s sitar and were trying to add playing music to the list of my offenses. "I don’t play anything," I sniffed.

"Stop fooling around," the guard snapped. "We’re already tired of your games from last night. Now, I’m asking you again: What do you play?" "The piano belongs to my daughters," I said. "Not everyone is musically inclined, you know."

The guard who had escorted me here caught the misunderstanding and, with a faint smile, explained to the first guard why I had been arrested.

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