Several political prisoners have been freed in Iran ahead of new president Hassan Rouhani’s upcoming visit to the U.N. General Assembly. Responses to the releases have ranged from optimism to cynicism, as some experts say this may be the first tangible sign of change under the new administration.
Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent women’s rights activist in Iran, was among those freed on Thursday. “They were quite certain this time that I'm freed and I don't need to go back,” the 50-year-old activist said.
Reports are circulating that seven other women prisoners have also been released in the previous 24 hours including journalist Mahsa Amrabadi. Among the freed are at least four men, including and former deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh as well as politicians Feizollah Arabsorkhi, Mirtaher Mousavi.
“In the past, when I was granted prison leave they used to give me a document, this time they gave me nothing,” Sotoudeh said.
“My goals and mentality are the same as before, I haven't changed,” Sotoudeh added, stating that she will still endeavor to “to restore justice and defend the rights of protesters.”
For American Pastor Saeed Abedini, however, nothing has changed. He will mark one year in prison in Iran next week on September 26, 2013.
Pastor Saeed's wife, Naghmeh, lives in Boise, Idaho, with daughter Rebekka, age 7, and son Jacob, age 5.
“Every minute, every day Saeed is apart from us is more excruciating than the next,” she says. “This was the second year that Saeed missed Rebekka's birthday. We had hoped that this past year would be the last she would ever have to celebrate without daddy. Now, I am faced with the painful realization that our kids are growing up without their father. We are praying for a miracle just to be able to see him again.”
The releases may be a good sign for Pastor Saeed, but only time will tell.
“If the Iranian government is truly serious about real reform it needs to take immediate and concrete steps leading to the unconditional release of hundreds of other political prisoners currently languishing in Iran's prisons,” he says. “It also needs to ensure that those who are freed will not continue to suffer targeting at the hands of security forces and judicial authorities.”
Kristin Wright is a columnist and contributing writer at ReligionToday.com, where she focuses on global human rights issues. Kristin has covered topics such as bride trafficking in North Korea, honor killings in Pakistan, and the persecution of members of minority faiths in Iran. She has visited with religious minorities in Pakistan, worked with children at risk in Mumbai's “Red Light” district, and interviewed individuals on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kristin recently returned from Turkey and the Syrian border, where she covered the plight of refugees fleeing the conflict. She can be contacted at Kristin@kristinwright.net.