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Iranian Women Activists Released

Two prominent Iranian women's rights activists, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh and Shadi Sadr have been released from Evin prison. They were the last of thirty-three women arrested in front of a courthouse in Tehran on March 4th.

The group was showing solidarity for five women's rights activists on trial for organizing an equal rights demonstration in Tehran in June 2006. Ms. Sadr and Ms. Abbasgholizadeh were held for sixteen days, the majority of which were spent in solitary confinement.

Ms. Sadr is a prominent Iranian lawyer and journalist who founded the first website dedicated to the work of Iranian women's rights activists. She also directs a legal advice center for women. Ms. Abbasgholizadeh is the editor of the quarterly journal "Zanan" and has been previously imprisoned for contributing to reformist websites.

Both women have been active in efforts to change Iranian laws that discriminate against women. They are also key members of a campaign called "Stop Stoning Forever," which was launched in September 2006 to end the practice of execution by stoning in Iran. The victims of stoning are overwhelmingly women.

Ms. Sadr and Ms. Abbasgholizadeh were released after their families came up with large amounts of money for bail and after Iranian authorities closed the two non-governmental agencies they helped run.

Azar Nafisi is a professor and author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran," a best-selling memoir of her life as a literature professor in post-revolutionary Iran. She says the Iranian regime's brutal treatment of women is a sign of failure:

"The government has used jails, flogging, fines, all the means of repression as well as propaganda to make women act a certain way. It has been so ineffectual that almost three decades after the revolution they still have to put women in jail."

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the actions of the Iranian government against the "brave women" protesting in Tehran "highlight an alarming trend of intolerance toward the expression of independent views by the Iranian people." The United States, says Mr. McCormack, "stands with the women of Iran, who courageously struggle for their universal rights."