Q&A: 'The Government Took My Sister Hostage'

  • Omid Memarian interviews Iranian Nobel Prize Laureate SHIRIN EBADI (berkeley, california)
  • Inter Press Service

Even the Shah, before the 1979 Revolution, was hesitant to use violence against demonstrators during the religious ceremonies on Ashura, the day that the grandson of the seventh-century Prophet Muhammad and the third Imam of Shiite Muslims was killed.

On Monday, authorities arrested dozens of ranking political figures, including Ebrahim Yazdi, Iran's first foreign minister after the revolution, Alireza Beheshti, Mousavi's close advisor, Emad Baghi, a prominent human rights activist, and Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a well-known political analyst.

Agents from the Ministry of Intelligence also arrested family members of political leaders and human rights activists, including the sister of Shirin Ebadi, and the daughter of Ezzat Sahabi, a very prominent critic of the government.

On Monday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the demonstrations a 'Zionist and American-ordered show'.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that, 'if Britain does not stop its prattling, it will get [a hit] in the mouth.'

The United States, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the arrests on Sunday and Monday.

In an interview with IPS, Shirin Ebadi, who is currently outside of Iran, said that the authorities have taken her sister hostage.

'My sister is an academic and has no involvement in politics. She has been threatened to cut her ties with me, her sister, otherwise she would be arrested,' Ebadi said. 'My sister, my brother and my husband all are under huge pressure to force me to stop defending against human rights violations in Iran.'

She also discussed her current situation, and the recent crackdown on the Iranian opposition, which led to the arrests of 1,500 people and the deaths of at least eight on Sunday.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: A few days before your sister's arrest, you published an article on the death of the prominent and popular dissident Ayatollah Montazeri, calling him 'the father of human rights in Iran'. Considering the sensitivity the Iranian government had toward this serious religious critic, is it possible that your sister's arrest had something to do with this? A: My sister's arrest was directly related to my activities in furthering human rights in Iran. Some of these activities are defending political prisoners, serving as head of the Human Rights Defenders Centre, writing a letter in memory of Mr. Montazeri, and other things.

All of these are toward defending human rights, and I repeat, all of it is in keeping with the laws of Islamic Republic of Iran. I think some of these activities were not appreciated by certain authorities within the Ministry of Information, leading to my sister's arrest. They had threatened before that if I continue my work, she would be arrested.

Q: What do they want from you? A: What they have told my brother and sister is that my activities in defence of human rights are against [the interests of] the Islamic Republic of Iran and I must stop them. The fact is that whatever I do is based on the laws of Islamic Republic of Iran and it is to fulfill my duties to defend human rights.

Q: What events do you think contributed to your sister's arrest? A: I call her once or twice a month to see how she is. The Ministry of Information had told my sister that even this is too much and she should not be in touch with me at all. My sister asked them, how do you expect me to tell my sister that she cannot talk to me when she calls me? They had said that this disobedience would lead to her arrest.

Q: What about your husband, who is currently in Iran and has been forbidden to leave the country? A: The Ministry of Information had previously suspended my bank accounts and even my retirement income, but I continued my work. They suspended my husband's bank accounts, but I continued my work. Now they have taken my sister as a hostage, hoping that I would stop my work.

As all my activities for the defence of human rights are based on the laws of Islamic Republic of Iran, I see no reason to reduce or abandon my activities. Ministry of Information authorities must understand that at this critical time, laws and lawful behaviour are the only things that can restore peace in the country.

Q: What did the Ministry of Information state to her or your family as reasons for her arrest? A: They didn't give any information at all. Her husband and her two sons were home. They told her, 'We will take you in for a few questions.' Her husband said he wanted to go along, but they told him that there was no room in the car and that he should follow them, but while he goes to start the car, they leave with her.

Q: What is your main concern about your sister? A: Like many other people who have been arrested since Sunday, my sister is innocent. My concern for her is the same concern I have for all the innocent [detainees]. She is not a political person and there was no reason for her arrest. She hadn't participated in any gatherings and her full-time academic career doesn't leave her any time for such activities.

Q: What do you think about the extensive arrests after Ashura? A: I am sorry that Ashura led to such incidents. Violence does nothing but exacerbate the situation and create crisis. The violence displayed by the regime's officers on Ashura is unacceptable. Published photographs and video clips show that people were severely abused.

Q: Could this arrest or similar arrests be heralding a process to pressure families of political activists in order to stop their activities? A: Unfortunately, there is immense pressure on the families of political activists. One example is the way the mother of Sohrab Arabi [who was shot during the post Jun. 12 elections protests] was treated, and the arrests of a few women who are mothers of those who were killed by Iranian forces after the elections. Whenever someone asks for their rights, both the individual and his/her family are put under pressure.

Q: What is your request from the Iranian government? A: It is for them to be committed to laws they have passed themselves. They should be aware that abiding by law is the first step for bringing peace to a society.

Q: What does the Iranian regime gain by arresting relatives of human rights activists, knowing very well that it negatively reflects on the government? A: This shows that there are people who see themselves as above the law; those who believe they can implement their ideas through pressure. If commitment to law increases in society, much of the crisis in the society will be resolved. Note that I am talking about laws that the Islamic Republic itself has created. If a law is written and approved, we cannot only expect the officers to implement it for others; they must also participate in its full compliance.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service