Iran releases prominent dissidents ahead of Rouhani's UN debut

Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was among 11 political prisoners freed unexpectedly by authorities

Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh (R) hugs her mother-in-law at her house in Tehran on Sep. 18, 2013, after being freed after three years in prison.
2013 AFP

Tehran released eleven of Iran's most prominent political prisoners, including prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, days before President Hassan Rouhani's first speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

Sotoudeh was released Wednesday evening along with 10 others detained after unrest that followed the disputed 2009 re-election of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Sotoudeh, who was serving six years for “acting against national security,” told the New York Times, “I don’t know why they released me. I don’t know under what legal basis they released me. But I am free.”

"Psychologically, my condition is very good but my experience - with all the psychological pressure, the tense security atmosphere, and not having access to make phone calls - was very tough," she told Agence France-Presse news agency after her release.

Sotoudeh's husband, Reza Khandan, told Reuters his wife was dropped off at their home by prison authorities.

 "It's not temporary, it's freedom," Khandan said, "We are all so happy from the depths of our hearts."

Sotoudeh, 50, was arrested in September 2010 and convicted of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm the state.

Prior to her arrest, Sotoudeh defended journalists and human rights activists including Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.

She also represented Zahra Bahrami, a woman with dual Iranian and Dutch nationality who was hanged in January 2011 on drug-trafficking charges.

Sotoudeh staged a 50-day hunger strike last year to protest against Iranian authorities' treatment of her daughter, who had been barred from leaving the country.

The dissidents’ release comes less than a week before President Rouhani addresses the UN General Assembly, where he is expected to present a less confrontational image than his predecessor Ahmadinejad, whose administration faced ever-tougher Western trade sanctions.

Rouhani pledged during his election campaign to ease political and social restrictions, and his supporters have called for the release of political prisoners.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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