Free Shadi Sadr, uphold women’s rights

Shadi Sadr’s arrest represents a severe blow to the Iranian women’s movement, an important element of the pro-democracy cause in Iran and one of the leading tides in the overall reformist movement.
Shadi Sadr, the prominent Iranian lawyer and women’s rights defender, was violently arrested by plainclothes security officials on her way to Friday Prayers on June 17, 2009.

Sadr was the latest casualty amidst the ongoing crackdown of Iranian civil society following the disputed Iranian election on June 12. Since then, hundreds of activists, intellectuals, and dissidents have been arrested without cause or due process.

While all of these arrests are disturbing and unwarranted, Shadi’s represents a severe blow to the Iranian women’s movement, an important element of the pro-democracy cause in Iran and one of the leading tides in the overall reformist movement.

Shadi Sadr is a human rights lawyer who specializes in defending the rights of women in Iran. She was the director of Raahi, a legal advice center for women, which was shut down by the government in 2008, as well as Zanan-e Iran (Women of Iran), the first website dedicated to women’s rights activism in Iran. Shadi writes extensively on women’s rights issues and human rights for Meydaan-e Zanan (Women’s Field) on which, houses several women’s rights initiatives and local campaigns, including the “Stop Stoning Forever” Campaign. Shadi is a member of the Network of Volunteer Lawyers and defends pro bono some of the most vulnerable women defendants, including those who have been sentenced to death by stoning.

I first met Shadi in 2007, while I was researching a paper on the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign. Like many other young women activists, I was blessed to receive the mentorship, guidance, and knowledge that Shadi bestows on her colleagues, and particularly on the younger generation of women’s rights defenders. Shadi is an inspiration to all of us who strive for justice, and is the epitome of self-sacrifice for the good of humanity. One colleague joked that her belief in justice and the rule of law is so high that she would probably “defend her attackers.”

This is not the first time the Iranian government has gone after Shadi. She and another colleague, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, were held over two weeks in March 2007 before being released on bail. They, along with several other Iranian women’s rights defenders, were accused of “propaganda against the system”, “acting against national security” and “participating in an illegal demonstration” in connection with the June 12, 2006 demonstration.

In reality, Shadi Sadr has never endangered national security, unless the Iranian national security is inextricably based on the oppression of women. Shadi has been firm in her belief that the empowerment of Iranian women is compatible with both Islam as well as the Islamic Republic. She has been steadfast in her conviction that reform of discriminatory laws is possible, and serves as a bridge between religious and secular forces to make that change happen.

As one commentator said in response to Shadi’s arrest: “It’s how one controls a civilization — by taking their best and brightest away. Live in fear and live in defeat.” Shadi will not live in fear, and the Iranian women’s rights movement will not live in defeat. We call upon the women’s rights community and all human rights activists and organizations to speak out in defense of Shadi Sadr and all those who are being unjustly persecuted in Iran for their non-violent dissent. Please write to local and international media, mobilize your networks, and urge your policy makers and embassies as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay to take action to protect the basic human rights of all those who are being abused and arrested in Iran. You can write in Persian, English, or your own language.

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Rochelle Terman is a Ph.D Student in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley.

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