Women activists released by Iran chant pro-protest slogans outside jail

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Iran has released a number of prominent women activists and journalists from Tehran’s Evin prison, campaigners said Thursday, with video showing them defiantly chanting pro-protest slogans outside the jail.

Media based outside Iran said a total of seven women were released, while Iran continues to press a crackdown against protests that erupted in September.

They included campaigner Saba Kordafshari, held since 2019 after she campaigned against the obligatory hijab for women, and prominent photographer Alieh Motalebzadeh whose latest stint in jail began in April last year, the reports said.

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After being released, they chanted the slogan of the protest movement “Woman, Life, Freedom” and also “down with oppressors worldwide,” according to a video posted by Motalebzadeh on her Twitter account.

The Dublin-based rights group Front Line Defenders said Kordafshari and Motalebzadeh “have played a pivotal role in the women’s rights movement and have been unjustly in prison in the past years.”

The others released were Fariba Asadi, Parastoo Moini, Zahra Safaei, Gelareh Abbasi and Sahereh Hossein, all campaigners who in some cases had been serving years-long sentences.

Earlier this week, Iran released the young protester Armita Abbasi, whose case prompted international concern after she was arrested in October over protests in the city of Karaj outside Tehran.

In November US news outlet CNN, citing leaks and an anonymous medical source, had reported she was rushed to hospital after allegedly being raped while in custody. Iranian authorities have denied the allegations.

After her release, Abbasi posted a video on Instagram thanking those who had supported her for their help.

It was not clear if the releases were linked to an announcement by the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that he had agreed to pardon a large number of convicts, including those detained over the protests.

Rights activists have urged skepticism over the announcements, noting many prominent figures remain in jail and activists continue to be arrested.

“Khamenei’s hypocritical pardon doesn’t change anything,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group, describing the move as “propaganda.”

Iranian authorities have arrested thousands since nationwide protests broke out following the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old ethnic Kurd who had been arrested for allegedly breaching the country’s strict dress rules for women.

Women still detained include prize-winning rights defender Narges Mohammadi, the two journalists who helped expose the Amini case, Niloufar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, as well as foreigners including German national Nahid Taghavi and French academic Fariba Adelkhah.

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