When Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, President Bush congratulated the Iranian lawyer and children's advocate for "her lifetime championing human rights and democracy."
When Ebadi sought to publish her memoirs in the United States, she was startled to discover that doing so would be illegal, under a trade embargo intended to punish repressive governments such as the regime in Tehran that once sent her to jail.
Last week, Ebadi and her U.S. literary agency, the Strothman Agency of Boston, sued the Treasury Department, which enforces the sanctions, in Manhattan federal district court.
The lawsuit says the regulations ignore congressional directives to exempt information and creative works from the trade sanctions and more broadly violate the First Amendment rights of Americans to read what they wish.
The restrictions "seem to defy the values the United States promotes throughout the world, which always include free expression and the free exchange of ideas," Ebadi says in an affidavit filed with the suit.
Although the regulations allow the government to grant exceptions to the embargo, Ebadi hasn't applied for one. The lawsuit contends the rules for exceptions are too vague and that in any case it is unconstitutional to let the government decide whether an author may publish in the U.S.
The Treasury Department declined to comment on Ebadi's lawsuit, but spokeswoman Molly Millerwise defended the regulations as "part of the different strategies that make up our national-security policies."
The United States has 29 sanctions programs in place against countries, terrorist groups and others considered national-security threats, although the restrictions challenged by Ebadi apply only to Cuba, Iran and Sudan. Ironically, the way the Treasury Department interprets the trade embargo, Ebadi would have been free to publish a translation of her book in the U.S. had it originally been issued in Iran.
Ebadi, 57, says she wants to write specifically for a U.S. audience, offering it "a greater understanding of Iranian society."
By Jess Bravin THE WALL STREET JOURNAL November 2, 2004