Iran Heroine's Sister Is Arrested

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

By Shirin Ebadi

I couldn’t decide whether I preferred the old ward or the new. Here, the menu was improved. Chicken kabobs, schnitzel, nutritious stews, and (I was promised) an apple every 10 days! But the guards were enthusiastically ill-tempered, mean, and petty. There were four of them guarding just me, and they resented this fact greatly. "We are your prisoners," they liked to say. It was difficult to tell what time it was, since the naked light bulb hanging in my cell was always on and there were no windows. I was allowed no newspapers, no radio. Sometimes I would wake from a nap and wonder whether 10 minutes or 10 hours had passed. I began to go mad from the loneliness and silence. I missed my ex-neighbors’ cursing and swearing, their middle-of-the-night howls for heroin.

But after a day, my agitation passed. Maybe prison isn’t all that bad, I told myself. At least I don’t have to think about mopping the floors or taking out the garbage. I don’t need to worry about the article I promised to write or the trial I should be preparing for. No dinner to cook. No mortgage to pay.

My interrogations took place in a small room nearly filled by a dilapidated wooden table. The sessions lasted several hours, the circuitous questions repeated endlessly. The judge began each round with a sonorous recitation of Koranic verse.

What flustered me was not so much the interrogations but the slowing of time. Hours turned to days and days to weeks in the suffocating sameness of my cell. I prayed five times a day. I stretched. I attempted calisthenics.

My Day in Court

One morning the guard handing me breakfast said I should dress for my trial that day. The prospect of leaving the confines of the cellblock for anywhere at all shot my heart through with joy.

The moment we entered the courthouse, I was overwhelmed by an intense feeling of over stimulation. After being alone for the past 15 days, the throngs of people — well-wishers, journalists pushing against police officers to speak to me — flooded my senses with shouts and colors. Suddenly I heard my husband’s voice. He pushed his way forward with the lawyer who would be representing me.

It turned out to be just a preliminary session. The man whose testimony I had videotaped, Amir Farshad, was put on the stand, and he courageously stayed loyal to the story he had told me. Then the court read the complaints of the plaintiffs, who were basically a selection of the extremist right, paramilitaries, and the hard-line press. At one point during Amir Farshad’s testimony, the judge summoned Ali, the interrogator. "His testimony doesn’t match the transcript of his interrogation," the judge said.

"Let me try to remind him," Ali replied.

As we were herded out of the courtroom, I caught sight of my teary-eyed sister pushing toward the front. She couldn’t manage to get through the crush of people, but our eyes locked.

Ten More Days…

Ten more days in prison. Ten more days of clanking breakfast trays, of sullen guards smoking and despising me. Ten more days of trying to imagine the gentle, rocky slope of the Alborz Mountains, where my poet friend Simin Behbahani and I hiked each week, talking languorously while we scaled the mountain as teenagers scampered past us with their boom boxes and jaunty bandannas. We usually climbed to a particular summit and stopped for tea at its mountainside cafe, savoring the cool alpine air and the vista of a lush green gorge. Simin and I are kindred spirits; many of the themes of her poetry — women’s suffering, the celebration of their rights and existence — inspire my own work. I tried to force more hours to pass by remembering her poems. The images came, of monsters soaring the sky in trails of smoke, of plundered mermaids.

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