Poet Behbahani, 'lioness of Iran', dies at 87: state media

Tue Aug 19, 2014 11:39am EDT
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By Michelle Moghtader

DUBAI (Reuters) - Poet Simin Behbahani, a champion of women's rights and free speech whose lyrical verse captured the hopes and disappointments of Iranians since the 1979 revolution, died on Tuesday at the age of 87, official media reported.

Nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, she earned the unofficial title of the "Lioness of Iran" for what admirers saw as her courage in the face of official censorship.

After nearly two weeks in the Tehran Pars hospital, she died of heart and respiratory complications, according to state news agency IRNA. She was nearly blind towards the end of her life.

"Until now, I've said what I've had to say, I've always said I'm against death, I'm against killing and I'm against imprisonment," she told the BBC's Persian service in 2012.

She voiced strong opposition to the practice of stoning, a rarely used form of capital punishment. Under Islamic law in force in Iran since the revolution, adultery may be punished by death by stoning, while crimes such as murder, rape, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are all punishable by hanging.

Behbahani added her voice to those of the demonstrators who rushed into the streets after a disputed presidential election in June 2009 to protest against alleged ballot rigging, by writing the poem "Stop Throwing My Country To The Wind".

She encapsulated the hopeful and later deflated moods of contemporary Iran after the revolution, using a 1,100-year lyrical form of poetry known as the ghazal.

"It's an amazing index of those yearnings, and aspirations and disappointments following the revolution," Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, a friend of the poet and director of the Roshan Center for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland, said of her work.   Continued...

Iranian poet Simin Behbahani speaks at the "Yes to peace, No to war" conference in Tehran November 19, 2007. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl