Iran Heroine's Sister Is Arrested

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

By Shirin Ebadi

Again, the truth dawned on me. He had thought I was a drug addict! In Persian, "What do you play?" also means "What do you take?" — as in drugs. He had assumed I was high last night, to have laughed so hysterically. Prostitute, porn star, drug addict. Did no one in this prison think a woman could be a prisoner of conscience?

Changing Spaces

After the booking, I was taken to a new cell. It was no upgrade, but at least the guards were kinder, and I noticed that they were treating me specially. They scooped out bowls of food from a huge pot for the other inmates, but they served me a special tray of chelo-kabob (meat skewers over rice). I stared at the ceiling, then at the floor, until I felt myself going cross-eyed from boredom. So I started peeping through the little hole in the door. One of the prisoners had her child with her, and she was playing in the hall, entertaining the guards.

The guards, it turned out, all had college degrees, with backgrounds in juvenile reform. They knew of a children’s rights organization I had helped found, and later on, when they discovered the connection, they turned even more respectful and sweet. They sneaked me into the prison library so I could get some books. (It was technically reserved for male inmates; even here, we were second-class.) They brought me fresh clothes. But they couldn’t protect me from the luridness of the night.

Many of the prisoners in my ward were drug addicts who had been brought there to quit their addiction without the aid of any detoxification drugs. They howled and screeched through the night, horrible screams that reverberated through the walls. When the guards began feeling cozy with me, they would sometimes come and sit in my cell to complain about their jobs. I sympathized. It was tough work. But at least they got to go home after their shift.

My Thoughts on Prison

It was so odd to me, how the rhythm of prison life became familiar. The personality quirks of the guards; the dank, dusty smell of the cells — even the howls of the addicts seemed normal to me after a couple of days. On the third day, a young man visited my cell and accused me of trying to pass a phone number out of prison. "I’ve done no such thing," I said politely. He grew furious and searched my bag, with rough, jerky movements. I was dumbfounded. The prison guard, an affectionate woman whom I had gotten to know a little, came to my cell afterward. "Why the hell didn’t you defend yourself?" she demanded, her eyes full of reproach. "What kind of damn law school did you go to? What’s the point of all that education if you just sit there silently?"

I said nothing, just closed my eyes. I was too worn out to argue with her, too dejected to explain that a legal defense is useful only in places where due process is respected. She touched my shoulder, sighed softly, told me to trust in God and let me be. Later that night, a sharp rap on the door jolted me from my half-conscious stupor. "Get ready. You’re being sent to another prison," a woman’s voice announced from the other side of the door. Suddenly, all the fear I had managed to fight back since arriving at Evin rushed over me at once. As I picked up my bag with trembling fingers, snatches of all the reports I had ever read about prison torture began flashing through my mind. I knew they wouldn’t dare rape me. But they could lash my bare feet with electric cables until I "confessed," until I said, "Yes, I, Shirin Ebadi, falsified propaganda against the Islamic Republic."

"Where are you taking me?" I asked. Silence. "Please, can you just tell me where we’re going?" What if they were taking me to the dreaded place known by the ominous bland title of the Joint Committee? I’d heard that torture was rampant there.

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