She lost her family and her country and faces ongoing death threats, but Shirin Ebadi carries on with her fight for human rights because she sees a “mental revolution” developing in Iran today.

Despite any slight intellectual shift, however, human rights abuses at the hands of the Iranian government continue, and in recent years they have been extreme enough to prompt thirty-six organizations to send a joint letter to the United Nations. Last November the coalition called for the approval of a resolution that would prioritize the protection of human rights in Iran, citing shocking examples.  According to the letter, the first ten months of 2015 saw at least 830 uses of the death penalty in Iran. Meanwhile, activists, protesters, and journalists are still persecuted for standing up against unjust laws.

Dr. Ebadi is a human rights lawyer, activist and leader of one of the organizations that sent that letter.  Since 2003, when she became the first Muslim woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, she has faced relentless attacks for her actions.  As one of the founders of the Tehran-based Defenders of Human Rights Center, Dr. Ebadi has banded together with other attorneys to defend those most vulnerable to harm at the hands of the government.  Especially in a country like Iran, however, she and her colleagues know that they fight an uphill battle.

Ebadi’s latest book, Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran, chronicles the past thirteen years of her life and her continuing work in the face of adversity.  She recently discussed the new memoir with Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government’s Ambassador Swanee Hunt at Parish Church in Cambridge.

“You have had your home wire-tapped, you have had death threats nailed to your door, you had your husband set up with a woman who stripped herself naked, and he had to call you and tell you he had been filmed with her while you were away, outside the country.  You couldn’t find him, you kept calling… and then he has to denounce you because of death threats to him,” recounted an awed Ambassador Hunt, asking Ebadi how she has found it in herself to continue standing up for others’ rights, even after how much she has personally lost.

» Watch Ebadi's entire conversation with Harvard Kennedy School's Swanee Hunt on WGBH Forum Network.

Ebadi said she does not regret devoting her life to her cause, in spite of the price she has paid.  Everything has its price, she claims, including democracy and freedom. To her, human rights for women, children, prisoners, and all of those denied their basic freedoms is worth any consequences she may face.

The high concentration of political power in the hands of the country’s president complicates Iran’s journey towards progressive reform.  Dr. Ebadi acknowledges the prominent presence of reformists in her home country, but she does not believe the radical changes these people hope to see will be possible as long as the president is resistant to them.  Still, with the intellectual revolution she predicts and a people now committed to nonviolence, her fight is not in vain.

When given the opportunity to ask Dr. Ebadi questions following the discussion, one audience member stepped up to the microphone and gave a message he had waited thirteen years to communicate.  In Farsi and then in English, he thanked Dr. Ebadi.

“You were my role model, and I believed in you so much that I decided to go to law school… I want to thank you, I want to see if I can hug you on behalf of all Iranians.”

The two embraced on the small stage, to applause from the audience in Parish Church. Perhaps with the help of young students like these, Ebadi can finally begin to see hope within reach.