Simin Behbahani, 'Lioness Of Iran,' Dies At 87

Iranian poet and women's rights advocate Simin Behbahani has died. Her work probed the social and political challenges that faced Iran after its Islamic Revolution. She was 87.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Simin Behbahani was known as the lioness of Iran. She was a poet and, at times, given remarkable freedom to wield her pen. Her work was critical of the regime. She dealt fiercely with women's rights and other challenges facing the country after its Islamic revolution.

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Simin Behbahani died today at the age of 87. Her work spans decade from the days of the shah to the reign of the ayatollahs. In 2009, a disputed election return Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency. It sparked protests in the streets of Tehran, and Behbahani responded with this poem aimed at the country's leader.

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SIMIN BEHBAHANI: (Through translator) If the flames of anger rise any higher in this land, your name on your tombstone will be covered with dirt. You have become a babbling loudmouth. Your insolent ranting -something to joke about. The lies you have found you have woven together. The rope you have crafted you will find around your neck.

SIEGEL: That's an excerpt from the poem "Stop Throwing My Country to the Wind." NPR's Davar Ardalan voiced that English translation. In 2010, Simin Behbahani tried to leave the country to attend an International Women's Day event in Paris. She was stopped and her passport was confiscated.

CORNISH: But Behbahani always spoke out. In 2007, she railed against the practice of stoning women accused of adultery.

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BEHBAHANI: (Through translator) In the last 28 years after this revolution in Iran, this has been repeated. And even once at the beginning of the revolution, we had the woman condemned to stoning to death. While they were stoning her, she would not die as she was resisting. At the end, one of the police or revolutionary guards got a piece of heavy cement and put it on her head to kill her.

SIEGEL: That was the voice of an interpreter for Behbahani who spoke to NPR's Mike Shuster.

CORNISH: Back in March 2011, President Obama recited one of Simin Behbahani's poems on the Voice of America. It was part of a Persian New Year's greeting to the Iranian people.

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BARACK OBAMA: Old I may be, but given the chance, I will learn. I will begin a second youth alongside my progeny. I will recite the hadith of love of country with such fervor as to make each word bear life.

SIEGEL: That's from "My Country, I Will Build You Again" by Iranian poet Simin Behbahani. She died today in Tehran of heart failure. She was 87 years old.

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