TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has released a prominent human rights lawyer after keeping her in prison for three years, relatives said Wednesday.
The release of lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, mother of two, and several polical figures and female journalist came ahead of President Hasan Rtouhani next week visit to New York and can be seen as part of his promises for openness both inside and outside Iran.
In March 2011, months after Sotoudeh went to jail , Obama called her imprisonment "show of fear" sine she was jailed for defending human rights.
The semi-official ISNA news agency and opposition websites also reported a dozen other prisoners held on security charges after the disputed 2009 election have been released. Among them is Mohsen Aminzadeh, who was deputy foreign minister during the presidency of reformer Mohammad Khatami.
Feizollah Arabsorkhi a deputy commerce minister during Khatami and Isa Saharkhiz , prominent Iranian journalist are also among the released prisoners.
Mir Taher Mousavi a close ally of the under-house-arrest opposition leader Mir Housein Mousavi are among released prisoners. Six female journalists are also among them, too.
"This is a positive pulse for both inside and outside by moderate Rouhani," Tehran-based political analyst Soroush Farhadi said. "It is a special message suggesting Iran is ready for more flexibility."
Farhadi said, "Iran arrested many activists before and after visit by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to New York in previous years. Now , we are witnessing quick release of prisoners ," before Rouhani visit to New York.
Authorities brought Nasrin Sotoudeh home and told her she was freed, Reza Khandan told The Associated Press. "We had expected her to come for a short leave but they have told her she is free," he said.
In a statement, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran welcomed the releases and urged President Hassan Rouhani to continue to take concrete steps toward improving the country's "urgent human rights situation" ahead of his scheduled speech to the United Nations on Monday.
Sotoudeh, 49, who defended opposition activists, had been convicted of security offenses and was sentenced to 6 years prison after an appeals process. She began her sentence in September 2011.
Khandan said Sotoudeh will investigate her case in the coming days to learn on what grounds she was freed.
In 2012, Sotoudeh, who represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists following the disputed June 2009 presidential elections, was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Union.
Khandan said, "Sotoudeh was unaware that she is going to be released when authorities picked her up from prison today."
"I am happy that she joined us particularly as our younger child is starting school for the first time," said Khandan.
"We are very happy, "said Khandan. "But we will be happier if other prisoners are freed, those who have not had a single hour of leave over the past years. We all belong to the same family, the family of prisoners."
Mehraveh Khandan 13 year-old daughter of Sotoudeh cheerfully repeated on the phone, "Mom is release. She returned home.They say she is released."
The release of Sotoudeh, mother of two, is seen linked to the recent election of Rouhani who urged for promoting rule of law and "Islamic Mercy" during his presidential campaign in June.
Many of the released prisoners could use short leave over the past years.