Iranian Activist Says Her Release Is A Gesture, Not A New Era : Parallels Nasrin Sotoudeh, one of Iran's most prominent human rights lawyers, says President Hassan Rouhani has opened a space for dissident voices, but the country is still a "big prison."
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Iranian Activist Says Her Release Is A Gesture, Not A New Era

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Iranian Activist Says Her Release Is A Gesture, Not A New Era

Iranian Activist Says Her Release Is A Gesture, Not A New Era

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani has raised hopes that there will be progress in the country on the issue of human rights. He pledged to release political prisoners. And last September, 80 prisoners were freed. Among them, a high profile human rights lawyer.

NPR'S Deborah Amos met her in Tehran and brings us her story.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Nasrin Sotoudeh recalls her sudden release from prison over breakfast at her modest apartment in the Iranian capital. A lawyer and a human rights activists, she was halfway through a six-year sentence on charges of acting against national security when prison officials told her she could go home.

NASRIN SOTOUDEH: They told me: Go, you are free. They told me.

AMOS: She was dropped off at her front door, to the surprise of her husband and two children. They'd often been barred from even visiting her in Iran's harshest political prison. Her family also feared for her health after repeated hunger strikes - the longest, 49 days - until authorities lifted a travel ban on her 12-year-old daughter. Then suddenly, on a September evening, she was simply told her prison term was over.

That must have been very strange?

SOTOUDEH: Yes...

(LAUGHTER)

(LAUGHTER)

AMOS: Since her release, she's has become a target for Iran's hardliners, especially after meeting with a European delegation last year that linked progress on human rights with the nuclear talks. Her home was ransacked soon after. Her husband posted the details on Facebook.

SOTOUDEH: (Through Translator) Two weeks after the EU visit, the robbery happened and we were attacked on hardline websites.

(APPLAUSE)

AMOS: Here she is at a literary gathering in March, hosted by a writer who had been jailed for satirical poems critical of the government. She got a standing ovation. The video was posted on YouTube. This was her first public speech since her release, says Ghaemi. And Sotoudeh showed she will continue to speak out for civil rights.

SOTOUDEH: (Foreign language spoken)

: She said: I may be free, I may be out of this small prison, but we are all limited and still being circumvented by the big prison, which is the entire country.

AMOS: There are risks, he says, but Sotoudeh knows the price. And she's committed to staying in Iran. She says the election of Hassan Rouhani has at least opened a space for dissident voices.

Deborah Amos, NPR News.

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