A Q&A With Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi

The recent intensification of protests in Iran has been met with more arrests. Among those detained: the sister of Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize–winning human-rights lawyer. NEWSWEEK's Anita Kirpalani spoke by telephone with Ebadi, in exile in the U.K. since June 2009, about her perspective on the green revolution. Excerpts:

Why did the government arrest your sister?
My sister is not engaged in any political activity. She is a dentist and a professor. The Ministry of Intelligence has clearly stated that they arrested her because of my activities—so that I would stop them.

How do you justify putting your family at risk?
Naturally, the fact that they are placed in danger because of my human-rights activities is emotionally difficult. However, the true source of danger for them is not me but the Iranian government.

Are the protests growing?
Yes, day by day. They have even spread to smaller cities and there are demonstrations every day in universities. People have gained courage and will not give up their rights despite the fact that, should they protest, they will be arrested or shot at in the streets.

What exactly are they protesting?
The sad conditions that this government has created. People are getting poorer; they do not have security; censorship is very strong; civil and political liberties have been taken away; unemployment is very high, and so is official corruption. All of this has made the people angry.

But aren't these claims old claims?
Yes, but as the regime gets older, the number of its opponents grows. If, 20 years ago, only 20 percent of the people were against the government, now it is 80 percent.

Can we expect a second revolution?
In 30 years the people of Iran have seen a bloody revolution and eight years of war with Iraq. So they are tired of violence and are, rather, after reforms.

Does the opposition have a leader?
The reason this movement is so strong is that it doesn't have a definite leader. The people are the leaders, and this is why the government's mass arrests and torture haven't been able to stamp it out.

Has Mousavi lost control?
Since [Mir Hossein] Mousavi and [Mehdi] Karrubi are with the people, they can be counted as the leaders. However, don't believe that if tomorrow they tell the people that the movement is over and that they should go home without making noise, the people will listen.

Are the conservatives divided to the point that some would favor compromise, even if that means sacrificing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
Differences have appeared. They are so frightened of losing power that each one tries to blame the other and to diffuse the danger through the sacrifice of one or several people.

Will Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sacrifice Ahmadinejad?
I can't see any sign of this.

Will new sanctions be effective?
I am against economic sanctions that hurt the people. The first thing to do is not to grant visas to ministers, commanders of the armed forces, and their families. Arms imports should be banned. Also, several people in prison claim the government was able to track them down through their Nokia cell phones. The U.S. government can blacklist such companies.

How do you see things evolving?
It is hard to predict because it depends on a number of variables, including the situation of Iran's neighbors, oil prices, and U.N. resolutions. However, in the end, the government has only two options. It will either listen to the will of the people, or it will fall.