Drowning in Moderation
Iran’s Darkness at Noon

In an explosive excerpt from a new book in the New York Times, Iran’s only Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, an exiled female lawyer and former judge named Shirin Ebadi, tells how Iran’s government plied her husband with alcohol and an old flame in her absence, recorded him, threatened to stone him, and forced him to denounce her. Javad, husband of 34 years was taken to Evin Prison (where Ms. Ebadi had also once been imprisoned, and lashed). Readers of Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler’s classic novel about Russia under Stalin, will be familiar with what happened next:

And then they led him to a solitary confinement cell, perhaps only slightly bigger than a bathtub, and left him there for two days.

On the third day, two prison guards came. They blindfolded him again and led him to a sort of courtroom, where a bearded cleric, the judge, sat behind a wooden desk.

Javad later told me what the judge had said:

“I’ve watched the entire film. There’s really no room for denial. You are a married man and have committed adultery. According to Article 225 of the Islamic Penal Code, you are sentenced to death by stoning. The sentence will be carried out two days from now.”

“I want a lawyer,” Javad said. “I’m not going to do anything without a lawyer.”

“A lawyer!” the judge said, amused. “What for? What is a lawyer going to say? We have a film of you, sir — your entire liaison is on camera! What kind of defense do you imagine you could mount? Just go. Go be ashamed of yourself, and spend your last two days repenting to God.”

The trial took about 20 minutes. Iranian judges scarcely ever handed down stoning verdicts, but the situation seemed to require an especially horrific punishment. The real purpose of the arrest became clear a few hours later, when the intelligence agent who had arrested Javad, along with his boss, came to Javad’s cell.[..]

The intelligence agent said I had been proud; now I would see my weakness.

When Javad saw that pleading or protesting would only provoke more beating, he asked what it was they wanted.

For the first time, the agent’s boss spoke. He explained the problem:

“If you’re still defending your wife, it means you’re her ally and collaborator. And you should be punished as such. If the truth is otherwise, you need to prove that to us.”

All he had to do in order to gain his freedom was to read a short statement in front of a camera:

“Shirin Ebadi did not deserve to receive the Nobel Prize. She was awarded the prize so that she could help topple the Islamic Republic. She is a supporter of the West, particularly America. Her work is not in the service of Iranians, but serves the interests of foreign imperialists who seek to weaken Iran.”

He knew immediately he would do it. Surely, everyone would know that he had been pressured into saying those things.

Ms. Ebadi’s tale of a family ruined, the guilt of feeling it was her fault, her pain and that of her daughters, is worth reading in full. As we did, we thought of how far removed this story was from fantasies of “flawed quasi-democracy” in Iran that permeated certain realist foreign policy circles after the Iranian elections. If this was what the security services were willing to do to get at a woman who was already marginalized, out of the country, and destined for permanent exile, imagine what they are capable of doing to politicians—and their families—from whom they want more substantive decisions.

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