“Reform is useless in Iran,” Ebadi told me in an interview Thursday. “The Iranian people are very dissatisfied with their current government. They have reached the point and realized this system is not reformable.”
For Ebadi the means of ending Iranian tyranny should be a U.N.-monitored referendum on the constitution that proposes a basic change: the elimination of the unelected office of supreme leader. The Iranian people, she said, “want to change our regime, by changing our constitution to a secular constitution based on the universal declaration of human rights.”
Ebadi’s radicalism, along with the mass demonstrations that began at the end of December, is a powerful rebuke to the foreign policy consensus among many Western progressives who still pine for Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, to deliver on the reforms he promised in his 2013 and 2017 campaigns.
Ebadi told me she never believed Rouhani was a reformer. Nonetheless, she also said she was reluctant to call for the end of the regime, because the 1979 revolution was so traumatic. This is why she says the current uprising has no single leader. “In the course of the struggle the leaders will emerge,” she told me. “When we have free elections in Iran, the leaders will show themselves.”
Ebadi first made her views known in a statement published in February with 13 other dissidents and human rights advocates to call for the referendum. In her interview with me however she for the first time got more specific about what Western governments and particularly the Trump administration can do to assist the Iranian people in their struggle.
To start, she made it clear that she was not calling for a military invasion of Iran or any kind of U.S. interference with the movement itself. “The regime change in Iran should take place inside Iran and by the people of Iran,” she said. “But you can help the people of Iran reach their own goal.”
To this end, Ebadi had some recommendations. The basic idea is that the West should implement sanctions that weaken the regime, but do not hurt the people themselves. For example, Ebadi says the U.S. and European governments should sanction the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, or IRIB. This conglomerate controls the media in Iran, and also manages Iran’s external foreign propaganda such as the English-language PressTV and the Arabic al-Alam.
There are few entities more deserving of censure and sanction. Inside Iran, the IRIB broadcasts a weekly television show that airs the coerced confessions of political prisoners. For Ebadi this is personal. One of those broadcasts featured her husband after he was set up in a Soviet-style sting and filmed with prostitutes drinking alcohol. While in Evin prison, Ebadi’s husband was flogged for drinking and threatened with death by stoning for adultery if he did not confess to the alleged illegal activities of his famous wife. Eventually he relented. “My husband was forced to confirm the alleged veracity of all the charges they regularly bring against me,” she said.
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