Until We Are Free: My Fight For Human Rights In Iran

Author: Shirin Ebadi
Publisher: Random House, nonfiction

The years following the 1978-1979 Iranian Revolution turned Iran from a modern, forward-thinking country into a repressive despotic state. If life under such repression is hard for a man, what more is it like for a woman – a highly educated and vocal one at that?

In Until We Are Free: My Fight For Human Rights In Iran, author, lawyer, teacher and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi recounts how the social and political landscape of Iran changed the course of her life. Though the tome is written from the author’s point of view, Ebadi points out that she is representing a slice of everyday life and how the police state regime has had a negative impact on the Iranian people.

The opening pages clearly states Ebadi’s purpose in putting her story out into the world: “My aim in writing this book is to bear witness to what the people of Iran have endured in the past decade. By reading it, you will see how a police state can affect people’s lives and throw families into disarray. What you can take away from my personal story is this: if a government can behave in this way with a Nobel Peace laureate who has access to the platform of world media, and who is herself a lawyer with intimate knowledge of the country’s legal system, you can imagine what it does to ordinary Iranians, who have no such means or expertise at their disposal.”

Ebadi’s memoir opens in 2006, with the author working on a report on the Iranian government’s numerous executions of children. Ebadi states that while other countries have stopped routine execution of minors, “Iran regularly imposed the death penalty on children for a range of crimes, from murder to manslaughter in self-defence”.

Because of her background as a lawyer, her passion as a human rights activist, and her need to give voice to those who have been stripped of theirs, Ebadi became a target of the Iranian government. Someone in power wanted Ebadi to shut up, but she continued to champion the one cause that she held dear: that of exposing the cruel, archaic and barbaric (and perhaps misogynistic) regime that has been sweeping through the nation for some 30 years.

str2_sharilfreer_cover_ev_1Due to her endless campaigning against the lack of human rights laws governing Iran, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 – the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to have the prize bestowed upon.

However, to prove they have power, the Iranian authorities confiscated Ebadi’s Nobel Peace Prize and diploma in 2009 – and from a bank box in London.

Despite losing her award through blatant thievery, Ebadi continued to speak on the behalf of the voiceless – those who have either lost the will to fight, do not have the ability to fight on their own, or who have lost family members and friends to the infamous Evin Prison.

(Located in Evin, north-west Tehran, the prison houses a wing for political prisoners who have been held before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Evin Prison continues to house political prisoners and those who dare defy the regime.)

Though she never blatantly admitted this, it can be argued that Ebadi’s refusal to be a quiet submissive woman resulted in the creation of a political nemesis – a person or a group of people who devoted themselves towards making her life difficult by harassing her colleagues, friends, sister, children, and her husband. Ebadi’s nemesis did not care if her marriage collapsed or family members died – the objective was to break Ebadi into silence.

Although she and those around her went through horrific injustice, Ebadi’s writing remains matter of fact. Kudos to Ebadi for keeping everything factual and at arm’s length, which allows the reader to form their own opinions about the situations that Ebadi describes.

Though the tome may be skewered towards Middle Eastern politics or human rights issues, Until We Are Free sends out a resounding message that, in light of the current political landscape at home and abroad, the government cannot shut the individual up without resorting to violence. This is a great book that should be read by the masses.