Iran Heroine's Sister Is Arrested

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

By Shirin Ebadi

Silence

No one would answer me. "Just walk," they said. At a dark courtyard in front of the prison block, a bus stood waiting. One of the guards tied a blindfold around my head and helped me onto the bus. We rumbled off, and I groped the seat beneath me, staring into the blackness of the folded cloth over my eyes. We seemed to be driving in circles (and in fact, we were — I later learned that we never left Evin). When we stopped, I stumbled out of the bus, my hands floating in front of me. "This way," someone said. I recognized the voice. It was Ali, my interrogator at the court. "We’re convening a court session for you," he said. My hand was placed on the stump of what felt like a staff. "Follow me."

I followed. Vivid images of all the hideous things that could go wrong flitted through my mind. My mouth went dry, and I couldn’t stay quiet. "You will have to answer on Judgment Day," I cried shrilly to Ali. "It is you who are the negligent one! You are my interrogator; you’re supposed to investigate this. But instead of tracing who actually leaked the tape, you’re charging me!" I was beside myself, fury and terror dissolving my inhibitions. I screamed, "I will never, ever forgive you on Judgment Day!"

Suddenly, the staff halted. "Take off the blindfold," Ali said. I blinked, my eyes adjusting to the dim light of a narrow hallway about the width of a large man’s shoulders. Eight doors opened off the corridor, to eight solitary cells. "The water here is cleaner," he said. (The contaminated well water in the other ward had upset my stomach.) "The food is better, and no one will disturb you at night. You’ll be much more comfortable," he promised.

"I think I would be more comfortable at home," I said sullenly. He turned on his heel, strode out of the hallway and locked the door behind him.

I began investigating my surroundings. There was no guard. I peered into each cell, all windowless, with grimy, cheap carpeting that had clearly gone unwashed for years. In one room, my eyes seized on a half-full pack of cheap Iranian cigarettes. I really, really wanted to smoke. I left a crumpled bill on the table — we were allowed to keep money to use at the prison sundries kiosk — and went foraging for matches. For half an hour, I inspected each cell, checking in corners, under the carpet, everywhere. Smoking is permitted in prison, but inmates aren’t allowed to keep their own matches or lighters. You have to ask one of the guards to come light your cigarette for you. I wanted to smoke one of those cigarettes as badly as I had ever wanted anything, but I had promised myself I would never request anything in prison. It was a point of principle. I refused to need anything it was in their power to give. After another fruitless search, I threw the pack back on the table, curled up on the stinking floor, and went to sleep.

A Rude Awakening

The kick to my side was delivered to hurt, as well as to wake me up. "What are you doing here?" A stout woman with oily skin towered above me.

"I don’t know," I said sleepily. "They brought me here last night."

"Well, this is the guard’s room, so you can take yourself elsewhere."

"Fine," I said, gathering my things.

"What are you in for, anyway?" she asked with an offhand rudeness. None of your business, I wanted to retort. But I lectured myself: You’re stuck here, you’ll need to somehow win these awful people over. So I explained calmly.

"You’re lying," she said, rummaging through my bag. She took away my clothes and tossed a smelly, stained chador in my direction.

"But… but… please give me my own clothes back."

"That’s all you’re going to get," she snapped.

Adjusting to My New "Life"

Later, when a doctor came to check my blood pressure again, I petitioned him for my own clothes and got them back. For some reason, it made a universe of difference, sitting in that cell in my own clean dress instead of in the foul, unwashed smock worn by a hundred wretched women.

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