This letter, published online on March 12, 2009, is a web-only supplement.

To the Editors:

We think your readers will be interested in the following open letter on behalf of Iranian human rights leader Shirin Ebadi, who is now in danger in Tehran. Readers who want to support the letter can write to the Campaign for Peace and Democracy at

Joanne Landy
Thomas Harrison
Jesse Lemisch
Stephen Shalom

New York City


Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Ayatollah Shahrudi,
Head of the Judiciary
Mohammad Khazaee,
Ambassador and Permanent
Representative of the Islamic Republic
of Iran to the United Nations

We are writing to protest in the strongest terms the threats that have been mounted against Shirin Ebadi, cofounder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC)and the Organization for the Defense of Mine Victims. Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace laureate, has spoken out vigorously and repeatedly for women’s rights and human rights for all in her own country. She has also been a vocal and effective advocate for peace and against military attacks on Iran in international forums.

Ebadi today is in considerable danger. On December 21, 2008, officials prevented a planned celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and forced the closure of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, which Ebadi helped found. The center provides legal defense for victims of human rights abuses in Iran. The group had invited nearly three hundred human rights defenders and supporters to the private celebration. A few hours before the start of the program, members of state security forces and plainclothes agents entered the DHRC building. They filmed the premises, made an inventory, and forced the center’s members to leave before putting locks on all entrances.

On December 29 officials identifying themselves as tax inspectors arrived at Ebadi’s private law office in Tehran and removed documents and computers, despite her protests that the materials contained protected lawyer-client information.

Ebadi’s former secretary has been arrested, and on January 1, 2009, a mob of 150 people gathered outside her home, chanting slogans against her. They tore down the sign to her law office, which is in the same building, and marked the building with graffiti. The police, who have been quick to close down unauthorized peaceful demonstrations, did nothing to stop the vandalism.

In similar cases, Iranian authorities frequently have followed office raids and other harassment with arbitrary arrests and detention, often leading to prosecutions on dubious charges.

As peace activists, we have a special concern for Shirin Ebadi. Ebadi has spoken out, as we have, against any US military attack on Iran. In 2005, Ebadi wrote, “American policy toward the Middle East, and Iran in particular, is often couched in the language of promoting human rights. No one would deny the importance of that goal. But for human rights defenders in Iran, the possibility of a foreign military attack on their country represents an utter disaster for their cause.” (Shirin Ebadi and Hadi Ghaemi, “The Human Rights Case Against Attacking Iran,” The New York Times, February 8, 2005).

We oppose any military attack on Iran by the United States or any other nation. We reject too the hypocrisy of the US government when it protests repression in Iran while turning a blind eye to or actively abetting comparable or worse repression in countries with which it is allied, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Israel in the Occupied Territories. And we condemn as well Washington’s double standard in criticizing Iranian repression while itself engaging in torture and undermining civil liberties at home. But that in no way deters us from protesting in the strongest terms the denial of basic democratic rights to the people of Iran. We protest because we believe in these rights, and also because we see social justice activists in Iran and all countries as our natural allies in building a peaceful, democratic world.

We call on you to cease and desist from the threats to Shirin Ebadi, to move immediately to prevent any further harassment, and to ensure Shirin Ebadi’s safety and security.

Janet Afary, Medea Benjamin, Phyllis Bennis, Michael Berube, Norman Birnbaum, David Bromwich, Noam Chomsky, Joshua Cohen, Hamid Dabashi, Ariel Dorfman, Martin Duberman, Carolyn Eisenberg, Daniel Ellsberg, Mansour Farhang, Thomas Harrison, Nader Hashemi, Adam Hochschild, Doug Ireland, Jan Kavan, Nikki Keddie, Naomi Klein, Joanne Landy, Jesse Lemisch, Betty Mandell, Marvin Mandell, Frances Fox Piven, Katha Pollitt, Danny Postel, Sydney Schanberg, Stephen Shalom, Adam Shatz, Wallace Shawn, Alice Slater, Cornel West, and more than eight hundred others.

This Issue

April 30, 2009