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Human rights activist seeks U.S. audience

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Ebadi (The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON – Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize and praise from President Bush for her pro-democracy work. But now she’s suing the U.S. government, trying to get permission to publish her memoirs here. Blasting what she calls “enforced silence,” the Muslim lawyer says in an affidavit filed in federal court, “I very much want this new book to reach an audience in the United States.”

Ebadi hasn’t actually written a book yet. In her suit, filed in New York, she says she doesn’t want to write it in Iran and have to submit it for “official approval” by the mullahs. But she can’t work with an American literary agent, her attorneys say, because of Treasury Department regulations that impose penalties on anybody who transacts business with Iran, a member of Bush’s “axis of evil.”

“It seems ironic that a woman who has been honored by the Nobel committee for her work on behalf of free speech and human rights should find herself effectively barred from sharing her ideas with American readers,” Wendy J. Strothman, a Boston literary agent who wants to assist Ebadi, said.

The Treasury Department wouldn’t comment on the suit. Its regulations do allow American publishers to reproduce, translate and edit “informational materials” from countries subject to U.S. sanctions. But even advising an author how to structure a book “would be a problem,” said Philip Lacovara, a former counsel to the Watergate special prosecutor who has taken Ebadi’s case free of charge .