Nothing Will Be the Same After the Protests

We look at the scope, scale and sustainability of the protests in Iran, which have entered their second month, after being sparked in September by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s so-called morality police. More than 1000 protesters have been detained, and some children have been sent into reeducation camps. Tuesday’s United Nations statement stated that at least 23 children were killed in the protests. Shirin Ebadi is an Iranian human rights lawyer who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. She has been living in exile since 2009. Unlike previous protest movements, such as the 2009 Green Movement, she says today’s protesters are demanding fundamental change to the country’s system of government. “For 43 years, people have bottled up all this anger. For 43 years, the regime has turned a deaf ear to the demands of the people, and anyone who said anything against the regime has either ended up in prison or killed or has fled the country,” says Ebadi.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Today we look at the scope, the scale, sustainability of the protests in Iran, which have entered their second month, after being sparked in September by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody of Iran’s so-called morality police. More than 1,000 protesters have been detained. Some children were sent to what are known as reeducation camps. The United Nations saidOn Tuesday, at least 23 children were killed in protests. One of them was 11 years old. The Guardian reportsAnother schoolgirl was murdered by Iranian police after being beaten during a raid at her school.

Meanwhile, dozens rallied at Tehran’s international airport Wednesday evening, where they cheered the return of Elnaz Rekabi, a female rock climber who drew international headlines when she joined a competition in South Korea without wearing a headscarf. On Sunday, the 33-year-old climber wore her hair in a ponytail, covered partially by a headband — in violation of Iran’s strict dress code — during a climb at the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s Asian Championships in Seoul. Rekabi’s fate is unknown. There are conflicting reports in Iran media. In an interview Wednesday evening with a state-run media agency, she said that she had accidentally forgotten to wear her hijab.

ELNAZ REKABI: [translated]I was so frustrated with how to wear my shoes and prepare my gear that I forgot about my proper hijab. I went to the wall and ascended.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as a massive fire engulfed parts of Tehran’s infamous Evin prison Saturday, killing at least eight people, injuring dozens more. Witnesses heard gunfire and explosions coming out of the prison, which is well-known for holding political prisoners.

Democracy Now!’s Nermeen Shaikh and I spoke about all of this and more in an in-depth interview with the Iranian activist and lawyer Dr. Shirin Ebadi, once held at the Evin prison. Shirin Emadian was the first Iranian woman judge. All female judges were fired after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. She was held for almost a month in 1999 for her work in defense of prisoners of conscience. She was the first Iranian and first Muslim woman recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. She used the prize money in order to establish the Defenders of Human Rights Center. For decades, she was a human right lawyer in Iran, focusing on women’s and children’s rights. She has been living in exile since 2009. Dr. Ebadi joined me from London Wednesday. I started by asking Dr. Ebadi about the protests.

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated]These protests have been so large that even schoolchildren joined the ranks of those who are protesting. Even schoolchildren don’t want to accept Iran’s educational system. The recent protests have been much more severe and extensive than previous ones.

And the main difference between these protests and the previous ones is that in the previous protests the people used to congregate in various places around cities and towns and chant slogans, but now they’ve become wiser, the protesters. They ensure that protests are scattered throughout the country in different areas and are not sporadic. This makes it very difficult to have anti-riot forces in every corner.

And it’s very regrettable that in order to crack down on these protesters, the regime is even trying to persuade children by giving them money to go and join the government forces and stand against the protesters. During this time, many protesters were detained, including schoolchildren. In fact, one of the schoolchildren was even killed when the school was raided. And also, the regime is exploiting orphans in the country, and it’s turning them more or less into child soldiers for the regime.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Dr. Ebadi could you please elaborate on this? What does it mean that the regime is making children child soldiers?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated]The Convention for the Rights of the Child has been signed by the Iranian government. As you all know, the convention prohibits the use of children in wars or in conflicts. But the Iranian government used these children as child soldiers in the Iran-Iraq War, if you remember, and even now it’s using some children for the same purpose.

The situation for children in Iran is very dire. Children under 18 are executed. And it’s one of the very few countries in the world where there is still death penalty for young people under the age of 18. They also regularly arrest and place juveniles in jail.

These children are clearly younger than 18 when you watch the footage from the protests. And it’s very clear that they either pay these children or they try every way possible to persuade these children to join them, because they don’t have enough soldiers in their anti-riot force.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Dr. Ebadi can you also explain the changes in demographics in Iran since the revolution. Half of the population of Iran was born now after the ’79 Revolution, and so have known no other government than the governments that came into power following that. And also the literacy rates among women, the way that they’ve increased exponentially since the revolution — prior to ’79, women’s literacy was below 30%, and now it’s over 80%. More than half of university students are now women. How does this fit into the protests occurring today and the fact we see, as I was talking about earlier, so much young people participating and that these protests really are being led, young women, by women?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Yes, absolutely. Females account for more than 50% of all students at our universities. Many of our university professors are also female. We have many highly educated females in the country. And it’s natural that educated women are aware. They’re aware of their rights. They are aware of their rights and cannot tolerate discrimination. This has been true since the 1979 Revolution. And it is for that very reason that in every protest — and I’m not just talking about the recent protests, but in every protest we’ve had since the revolution — it’s the women who have been at the forefront.

I will elaborate and give you some examples from laws passed after 1979 Revolution. This will help you understand why women are protesting. A woman’s life is worth only half as much as a man’s. This is in addition to Iran’s enforced hijab. For example, if my brother or I are involved in an automobile accident, the damage a court awards my brother is twice what it awarded me. A testimony of two Iranian women is equivalent to one man’s testimony in court. Or, if a married lady wants to travel, she must have the written permission from her husband. We have so many discriminatory laws that target women. So, it’s very natural that such educated women will not put up with such discriminatory laws, all of which, I repeat, were adopted after the 1979 Revolution. This is why disenchantment is primarily among women.

AMY GOODMAN:Dr. Ebadi, this weekend saw a fire at the notorious Evin jail. At least eight people died. This is where political prisoners were held for many years. There is a possibility that you were held there. You certainly represented prisoners who were held there. Can you speak about what you know and the significance this prison has for you?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated]The exact cause of the fire is still unknown. According to the government the fire was started in prison by prisoners. However, conditions in prison are not suitable for such activities. There is — they have a room where they do needlework, and they claimed that the fire started there. Usually at 5:00, they close the needlework factory, and so they would not have been — and they said the fire started there. How could the fire have been started there when the door is closed at 5 p.m. every day?

The first report broadcast on state media following the incident stated that the eight victims were trying to escape prison. As they attempted to escape, they stepped onto mines we have around the prison. You heard the explosions caused by the mines they had stepped on, not bullets. And it’s really tragic to hear that, because the government, in a way, is admitting that inside the city, inside a prison, they have planted mines. This is a serious offense and the Iranian government should be held accountable. They are not allowed anywhere to place mines.

The real reason for the killings is not yet known. There are many prisoners from which no one has heard since. No one has been able contact them or to have meetings with them. We have heard that the women’s ward for political prisoners, they are OK, and nothing has happened to them. However, in the men’s section, there are some prisoners, political prisoners, we have not heard from, and we are extremely worried about them. We don’t know whether they’ve been killed, whether they’re injured; if they’re injured, which hospital they’re in. Why don’t we know what has happened?

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Dr. Ebadi: You were also imprisoned in Evin with your husband. When was that? And could you talk about what the conditions in the prison were, and if and whether — whether and how conditions in the prison changed over the years, as you continued to represent people detained there?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated]It was 1999 when my imprisonment in Evin took place. While I was there I was also placed in solitary confinement. Solitary confinement, which is a narrow, small room without a chair or bed, is what I was being held in. And they gave us a plain blanket and no pillows. So we had to — I had to sleep on the floor without a pillow. Since then, I have had many health issues. They take everything from me. They took my watch and my reading glasses. We are kept in isolation in solitary confinement. We have no chance to speak to anyone, not even our lawyers. And I can tell you that the situation hasn’t changed. It’s still the same.

All prisoners of conscience are required to be held in isolation for a while when they are arrested. They can use psychological pressure to make the prisoner confess, or falsely confess, and they can also make them feel guilty. And unfortunately, these prisoners are subjected to the most gruesome tortures in all Iran’s prisons, including Evin. And I’m sure you’re aware that several prisoners died under torture, including a young worker who was a blogger. His name was Sattar Bheshti. He died a few years later. He was tortured. Every year, one or two political prisoners are killed by torture. We have figures to prove it.

AMY GOODMAN:Dr. Ebadi: Do you think that President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement further radicalized the regime by isolating the United States with increased sanctions? And I’m wondering what you think the U.S. policy should be today?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] I am going to answer your question in this way, that before — Iran was not under any sanctions for three years after the signing of JCPOABefore Trump pulled out of JCPOA. And in the three years that there were no sanctions on Iran, there were no improvements in Iranian people’s welfare situation. So, it makes no difference for the Iranian people’s welfare and economic situations whether the United States is a party to JCPOAOr not, or whether sanctions have been imposed on Iran.

However, Iran should not spend any of the money it receives if it lifts sanctions against Iran. What does it spend the money? It spends it on Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Houthis in Yemen or Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. And more recently, it’s been helping Russia to kill the Ukrainian people, unfortunately. The Iranian people’s welfare and well-being means nothing to the Islamic Republic’s regime.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Dr. Ebadi is a prisoner at Evin. One of the prisoners there has been for many years is a person you worked closely with, the Iranian human right lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. She was also your attorney for a time. Would you be willing to share what you know about her current situation? She’s been — she was previously awarded both the Right Livelihood Award as well as the Sakharov Prize. She was initially held for 38 years. However, her sentence has been reduced.

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated]Nasrin Sotoudeh (human rights lawyer) is a close friend. And she ends up in jail. And she’s been meted out a long prison sentence for defending human rights prisoners. She’s been ill in prison. She was taken ill in prison. Fortunately, doctors allowed her to be granted leave to get treatment.

These days, it is considered a crime to work in support of human rights and defend the rights for Iranian peoples in Iranian courts. The human rights lawyers who end up in prison are charged with allegations such as: “You must be against the government; otherwise, you wouldn’t be defending people who are anti-government.” And I have said on many occasions, “Look, if we are defending a thief, does it mean that we are complicit in the act of theft? So, why do you arrest a lawyer who is defending human rights activists and accuse him of being complicit with such people, with the opposition?”

That is why many political activists, whether they’re lawyers or nonlawyers, they end up in prison. I should remind you that there are many well-known film directors who are currently in prison. There are many well-known prisoners. Iran has many well-known prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN:Dr. Shirin Emadian, an Iranian activist and lawyer, was our 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She spoke to us from London. When we come back, we continue our conversation, ask her about the Iranian president, Raisi, the protesters’ demands for regime change, and about the violence of security forces throughout the country, including Iran’s Kurdistan region, which was where 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was from. The Iranian so-called morality officers in Tehran killed her, prompting nationwide protests. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Come My Habibi” by the band Habibi. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We continue our conversation avec Dr. Shirin Ebadi (the Iranian activist, lawyer, and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate), In her book, she writes. Until We Are Free, quote, “I received the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2003 for my efforts for democracy and human rights, and though you would think that this would have propelled my work in Iran and won me some grudging respect, it put me under even more pressure and scrutiny by the government. The Iranian state tried to suppress my award by preventing state radio and television stations from even mentioning it, and placing me under a severe news embargo. When a reporter asked President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who was in power at the time, why he had not congratulated me, he responded, ‘This isn’t such an important prize. It’s only the Nobel in literature that really matters,’” he said.

That’s Dr. Shirin Ebadi. She was a human rights lawyer in Iran for many decades and was the first Iranian female judge. Since 2009, she has lived in exile. Democracy Now!’s Nermeen Shaikh and I spoke with her on Wednesday.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Ebadi, just to go back to what you were saying about the protests, that these are different from all the protests that erupted in Iran — that have erupted over the course of the last more than 40 years since the revolution, could you explain? The 2009 Green Movement was the most prominent, with millions of people taking to the streets. The protests lasted seven years. Even then, the government’s response was brutal. What is this protest like? What do you think will happen if the government’s response is so brutal and violent?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated]Look at the protests of the past, such as 2009, where people had a specific demand. They were protesting against a rigged electoral process in 2009. They were saying, “What happened to my vote?” But now the demand is different, and the demand is a political one. They want regime change. And they have all taken to the streets, and they are all chanting, “We want regime change.” This is one of the fundamental differences between these protests and the previous ones.

The people are resisting much better than they were before. The prisons are full. Many people have been murdered. Many others have been injured. Because prisons are too full, the regime even uses sports stadiums as prisons.

I doubt that the government will be able again to repress the people. I believe that the people will prevail. As I said, even schoolchildren cannot tolerate this. They refuse to go to school and have taken to the streets. You can see generations living next to one another. Children, parents, and grandparents are all seen protesting on the streets together. And even let’s assume that the government manages to repress the people by intensifying their crackdown. I promise you, there will be another protest in Iran within a very short time. Iran is like a powder-keg about to explode. They may be able to try and — it’s a fire. It’s a fire that is about to become bigger and bigger. There is nothing that the government can do.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ebadi, if you can talk about the marginalized regions — for example, the violence of security forces in Iran’s Kurdistan? Mahsa Amini was 22 years old and was an Iranian Kurdish woman, although she was killed in Tehran. What is the status of the Balochi minorities in light of the systematic killing of Balochi protesters? The majority of Balochi are Sunni and live in a majority Shia state.

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated]Extreme discrimination is a reality in Iran, where minorities are often subject to. If you look at Iranian death row prisoners, 95% are minorities. They are more oppressed than other minorities by the government. Mahsa Amini, in her birth certificate, she wanted to — her parents wanted to call her Zhina, which is a Kurdish name, but the government did not allow that, because, they said, “You’re not allowed to choose a Kurdish name; you have to choose a Farsi or Persian name for your child.” And this is real oppression against a minority group.

Mahsa was a young girl. She had traveled to Tehran to visit her relatives and as a tourist. And she was on the street with her brother when the morality police, under the pretext that her headscarf wasn’t covering the whole head, arrested her, and they took her to a detention center. Unfortunately, the ambulance that was carrying Mahsa’s body left the detention facility a few hours later. The doctors at the hospital stated that Mahsa had suffered from concussion and that there was nothing they could do. The pictures of Mahsa in hospital show her with the drips, serums attached to her ears. This is a clear indication that she had been concussed. And she was clearly in — you know, she had fallen into coma and started bleeding. But since this government never tells the truth, they said that she had — she was already sick, she had underlying diseases, and she had died from there. The people were even more angry.

Now, in Zahedan an officer of the police raped 15-year-old girl. And they took the case to court, and it didn’t get anywhere, so the people became very angry. The people of Zahedan, particularly the young people, decided to march on the streets and chant against the commander who had raped the girl. And the Friday prayers had just ended in Zahedan, that some 20 to 30 Balochi youth started chanting against the whole regime, that is a not — that is ignoring justice and is not bringing this commander to book. But the police knew what was coming and were ready to take out the protesters. Even those who had just left the mosque and weren’t part of the protest, many of them were also killed. As far as we know, more than 95 people have been killed. These are the people we know because we know their names and have their identity papers. Many others have been hurt and are still in hospital. We still don’t know if they will survive or die in hospital.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Dr. Ebadi, I understand that protesters have called for a change of the regime. How do you interpret that? For example, what is your response to Ebrahim Raisi, the current head of state. Amnesty International has stated that there is credible evidence that Raisi was involved in crimes against humanity. You could discuss his past and whether the repression he has ordered has anything to do with these protests.

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] Of course, there is no doubt that Raisi, in the ’80s, played a big part in the killing of political prisoners. It is clear that this is the case. However, to say that the protests this time are even more powerful than before, it’s not just because of Raisi. It’s because of the boiling anger. All this anger has been held captive for 43 years. For 43 years, the regime has not listened to the people’s demands. Anyone who has spoken out against the regime has been either in prison, killed, or fled the country. There’s been a huge brain drain, and we have lost many educated people. They didn’t want to leave Iran, but they had to. So, it’s a collection of all these issues that has led to these recent protests and where people are calling for regime change.

I’ll add that the people want a democratic government. That’s what they want, because for 43 years they have suffered a theocracy, and they know what a theocracy is like. They don’t want to live with a theocracy. They want democracy and secularism.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Could you speak about Khamenei’s fate? He is said to be very ill and is training his son to become his successor. Could you explain the significance of this, the role played by the supreme commander, and the possible impact of these protests?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated]Although Khamenei has been reported as being ill for a very, long time, we still see him giving speeches. And as always, he’s describing all these protests to the enemies. I can’t imagine that we will have another supreme jurist if Khamenei is killed. vali-ye faqihBecause the Iranian situation is worse than ever, they won’t allow any other clerics to take over and continue this despotic system.

One of the chants that you hear is — that some of the slogans chanted these days are against Mojtaba Khamenei, who is the son of Khamenei. So the people are chanting anti-Mojtaba Khamenei slogans to ensure that he doesn’t take over. But I really don’t think that if Khamenei dies, there will be any successor.

AMY GOODMAN:How do Dr. Ebadi see this uprising?

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated] It’s still too early to predict what these protests are going to lead to, but one thing I can tell you for sure: Nothing will ever be the same in Iran after these protests, because the situation has already changed a lot since before the protests. However, it is still too early to predict what the future holds.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Finally, Dr. Shirin Ebadi: What do you hope to see out of these protests, and

SHIRIN EBADI: [translated]My hope is that the people win. My hope is that we have a — they stage a referendum under the auspices of the United Nations so that the people freely choose the government they want and their representatives. This is my wish to the Iranian people.

AMY GOODMAN:Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian activist and lawyer. She was the first Iranian female judge to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. She is also the first Iranian woman and first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She spoke to us via London.

This is the breaking news: Liz Truss, British Prime Minister, is resigning. She is the U.K.’s most senior prime minister. This move comes less than one week after Truss fired Kwasi Kwarteng, her chancellor. She tried to blame him for the Tory budget which cut taxes and caused the pound’s to plummet. This comes at a time when Britain is facing record inflation, a surging cost-of-living, and has prompted mass protests. The Daily StarHad a live-stream called “Can Liz Truss outlast a lettuce?” After just 45 days, the lettuce has won.

This concludes our show. Democracy Now!We are currently accepting applications for a video news production fellowAnd a people and culture manager. offers more information and an opportunity to apply.

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Tune in tomorrow Democracy Now! We’ll be going to Britain for the latest, and we’ll also be talking about other issues. I’m Amy Goodman.