ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
"If you can't eliminate injustice, at least tell everyone about it." That quote opens and closes Shirin Ebadi's new book, "The Golden Cage. Ebadi is the Iranian human rights lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. In her new book, a nonfiction book, she tells the story of the Iranian Revolution through the lives of three brothers: a monarchist, a communist and a revolutionary Islamist. All three met tragic ends.
Shirin Ebadi joins me with her colleague Shirin Ershadi who will be translating for us. Ms. Ebadi, welcome back to the program.
Ms. SHIRIN EBADI (Human Rights Defenders Centre): Merci. Thank you.
SIEGEL: Of the three brothers you write about, one was executed in prison, the other two left Iran. One of them was killed while in exile, presumably at the behest of Iran.
Five years ago, I asked you why you didn't leave Iran and you told me the answer is very simple: I'm an Iranian, I belong to Iran, and I work for Iran so I have to be in Iran. Since then you've left and I'd like you to explain why.
Ms. EBADI: (Through translator) One day prior to the election of 2009, which means June 11th, I left Iran to participate in a seminar in Spain. Four days later when I had concluded my seminar, Iran was not the country that I had left. People had taken to the streets; many were arrested, many were killed.
So my colleagues recommended that instead of going back to Iran, I should go to the United Nations and tell the world what was going on in Iran. And working on human rights issues has become almost impossible in Iran.
And I want to talk about one of my colleagues, Mr. Mohammad Seifzadeh, who left his home 16 days ago and has disappeared. His accusation in court was having cooperated with me and with my center, although the judgment has not been finalized yet. But we don't know what has happened to him.
SIEGEL: To cooperate with you nowadays in Iran would be the basis of a criminal charge?
Ms. EBADI: (Through translator) Unfortunately, that's true. Mr. Seifzadeh has received nine years for having cooperated with me. And also my other colleague, Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is an attorney as well, has received five years for having cooperated for me and she's in prison now.
SIEGEL: You've said that you think Iran could erupt into an uprising similar to those that we have seen an Arab countries this year. Some people say Iran already did that, following that presidential election - the disputed election of 2009. Is it possible that the moment for Iranian democracy came and went; that it was defeated?
Ms. EBADI: (Through translator) The Green Movement has not come to an end. All those who oppose the government, with different ideologies, are in this movement. Iran is actually like fire under the ashes.
SIEGEL: This year, in Egypt and Tunisia, there were obvious similarities to what happened in Iran in 1979 - a broad opposition coalition united to oust a dictator amid great optimism. And I wonder what the lesson is of Iran's story that people in, say, Egypt and Tunisia might learn from.
Ms. EBADI: (Through translator) The lesson that they can learn is that it's not enough to oust a dictator. What we need when we get rid of a dictator is democracy. In Iran, unfortunately, we replaced one dictator by another one, a religious dictator.
SIEGEL: So you don't see an analogy between the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran?
Ms. EBADI: (Through translator) There is a difference between the Islamic Brotherhood and Khomeini. Khomeini was a leader, a religious leader, whereas the Islamic Brotherhood are a religious group. In 1979, he spoke of beautiful words, which of course he changed later on. At that time, as I said, even the communists voted for him.
SIEGEL: I want to ask you about that quotation that I began with, "If you can't eliminate injustice, at least tell everyone about it." Is that a guiding spirit for you in your life?
Ms. EBADI: (Through translator) That's exactly true. This has taken over all of my life. To give you an example, when I'm in court and I'm defending someone, when I'm frustrated and I get out, I talk to everyone and I tell everyone about what went on in the courts.
SIEGEL: Is it discouraging that for all of these facts that you've brought to light and that have been documented in Iran, the situation doesn't improve?
Ms. EBADI: (Through translator) I don't have the right to get tired or to lose hope. Please remember that the duty of a human rights defender is to work when things are not that good. Because if things were good, then I wouldn't have a job, I wouldn't have anything to do.
SIEGEL: Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. She is the author of the new book, "The Golden Cage." She is busy traveling the world talking about human rights issues in Iran. And when she's not doing that, she lives with her daughter in Atlanta.