Leila Mouri Sardar Abady

(WOMENSENEWS)–Shadi Sadr, the Iranian lawyer and women’s rights activist, was just released from prison.

On July 28 she went free.

This is wonderful news. It sends relief and immense joy throughout the ranks of Iran’s pro-democracy and humanitarian rights community, all of whom have worked so hard on her behalf.

Sadr, a Women’s eNews Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism recipient in 2004, was among 140 detainees released by the Iranian government on that day, some say to deflect criticism from the opposition party and the public.

Her release, and that of the other political prisoners, coincided with press reports of families recovering the dead bodies of protesters arrested at opposition rallies. According to media reports of human rights groups’ estimates, over 1,000 people have been arrested and nearly 100 killed in violence tied to the June 12 presidential elections. The Iranian government’s estimates are much lower: around 500 arrests and 20 deaths.

The opposition is calling for a nationwide protest Thursday to commemorate the deaths of those who died in the June 20 protests.

Sadr spent 12 days in prison. After she was abducted by security guards on her way to participate in Friday prayers on July 17, Sadr–who lost her scarf and her loose coat in the rough arrest process–was transferred to solitary confinement in the Evin Prison, north of Tehran, where her contacts with family were extremely limited.

Judge Rasekh from the Evin Prison reportedly told family members that she was not going to be released.

International organizations–including Amnesty International, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, Equality Now and Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era–joined political entities, such as the German government, to demand her release.

Government authorities called her family on Tuesday and informed them that she was going to be released that afternoon. They were prepared to go to the prison, but Sadr rang the doorbell of her house at 11 a.m. and surprised her family. Presumably, authorities did not wish to face a crowd in front of the prison for this release.

Earlier this month, at the time of her Friday prayer arrest, many thought it was odd that security forces captured her in such a public manner, since Sadr makes no secret of where she works or resides and could have been arrested at any time.

Message of Intimidation

Her capture, in other words, looked like the government’s way of sending an intimidating message about all the other women’s rights activists who have also been imprisoned in the post-election crisis, which has gripped Iran since June 12.

The roster of those still detained is now unclear after the releases on Tuesday, but as far as news reports go it may include some of Sadr’s friends and colleagues.

Shiva Nazar Ahari, a human rights and women’s rights activist, was arrested at her workplace shortly after Election Day. She was allowed to contact her family after 40 days in prison, at which time she told them that she had been recently transferred to a general prison from solitary confinement. (The Los Angeles Times describes Ahari as one of Sadr’s legal clients.)

Kaveh Mozafarri, another women’s rights activist, was rearrested recently, only two weeks after his release from the Evin Prison. In his first incarceration, he was held for 54 days.

Jila Bani Yaghoub, a journalist and women’s rights activist, along with her journalist husband, Bahman Ahmadi Amouii, were also among the first individuals detained during the current protest period. Bani Yaghoub was able to meet with her family in the Evin Prison on Monday for 10 minutes, after 35 days in jail, but her husband has not yet contacted his family.

These activists are among the hundreds of journalists and political and social activists who have joined millions in street protests to declare the election rigged and to demand a reelection. With only a week to go before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s inauguration, it seems unlikely that that demand will be met.

New Ground Gained

But these protests have given women’s rights activists plenty of new political ground to contemplate as citizens.

Women, since the beginning of this uprising, have stood side-by-side with men. On some occasions they were even in the frontlines and protected their male counterparts from the police and Basij militia.

Women showed up in tremendous numbers in the streets of Tehran and other major Iranian cities. They were attacked, imprisoned, insulted and killed by the security forces–and finally became the symbol of the protests.

The mass presence of women in the protests can be read as a sign of the social maturity and awareness of Iranian women.

And the role of the women’s movement, specifically in the last 10 years, as an important factor in spreading such social conscience cannot be ignored.

Role of Women’s Movement Debated

At the time of the post-election crisis, several debates and discussions among women’s rights activists focused on the role of their movement during the current events.

The common sense was that the Iranian women’s rights movement had much in common with the new movement, since both seek greater civil rights through peaceful strategies.

Shadi Sadr, in her last article before her arrest, discussed these strategies on the women’s rights Web site Meydaan-e Zanan, or Women’s Field.

"The women’s movement should revise its activities and programs once again to make a connection with public movements both strategically and contextually," she wrote. "At the same time, it should not allow the public movement to be a gender-blind movement. It should strive to assert gender equality demands at each step. The public movement will become deepened and sustainable only if the women’s movement and the other social movements, which are the important factors of ‘change,’ follow such path."

With this strategy Sadr is recommending that the Iranian women’s movement joins the public movement while also upholding its mission of eliminating gender discrimination against women.

Now Sadr is free again.

We can only hope she is allowed to continue her work on behalf of Iranian women and, by extension, all human rights in Iran.

Leila Mouri Sardar Abady is an Iranian journalist and women’s rights activist. She has recently become a doctoral student of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University in New York.