The Guardian reports: Iran’s most prominent human rights activist was released from jail on Wednesday along with several other political prisoners in what appears to be the most tangible sign of change yet under the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.
Ahead of Rouhani’s eagerly awaited visit to the UN general assembly in New York next week, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been likened to Aung San Suu Kyi, was driven from Evin prison in Tehran to her house in another part of the Iranian capital and told she did not need to return to jail.
“They were quite certain this time that I’m freed and I don’t need to go back,” the 50-year-old women’s rights activist told the Guardian by phone from her home.
Opposition website Kaleme reported on Wednesday that seven other women political prisoners had also been released in the previous 24 hours, including the dissident journalist Mahsa Amrabadi, and at least four men, including reformist politicians Feizollah Arabsorkhi, Mirtaher Mousavi and former deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh.
“In the past, when I was granted prison leave they used to give me a document, this time they gave me nothing,” said Sotoudeh, who last October was awarded the European parliament’s most prestigious human rights award, the Sakharov prize for freedom of thought, which has previously been won by Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela.
“My goals and mentality are the same as before, I haven’t changed,” Sotoudeh insisted, adding that like other lawyers she would still work “to restore justice and defend the rights of protesters”.
The prisoner releases have come amid increasing signs of a political opening-up in the Islamic republic following Rouhani’s inauguration last month and as he prepares for his UN visit, which many have suggested may be the scene for a historic meeting between the Iranian president and Barack Obama. [Continue reading…]
The question is, can Obama muster the heroic flexibility to defy the Israel lobby and talk to Rouhani? They are going to be in the same building at the same time. Can the U.S. really afford to squander such an opportunity? If nothing else, a friendly greeting to a noteworthy visitor really should be a matter of common courtesy. A handshake should be a bare minimum and since — as the media now credits Rouhani as a bona fide “moderate” because he’s had a Western education and speaks fluent English — can’t they at least have a conversation?