2010 Katharine & George Alexander Law Prize Address
Iranian Human Rights and Women's Rights Lawyer
The Katharine & George Alexander Law Prize brings recognition to lawyers who have used their legal careers to help alleviate injustice and inequity. The hope is that recognition of such individuals will improve the image of lawyers around the world. The Alexander Prize recipient for 2010 is Shadi Sadr, an Iranian lawyer who has risked her life in her efforts to protect the human rights of women activists and journalists. She has been arrested, beaten and imprisoned in Iran. In July 2009 she was arrested once again and then released, which allowed her to escape to Germany. On May 17, 2010, Ms. Sadr was convicted in absentia in a Tehran court of “acting against national security and harming public order” and was sentenced to six years in prison with 74 lashes.
Ms. Sadr has touched the lives of thousands of individuals through the entities she has established and her support of campaigns such as "End Stoning Forever." She founded the website "Women in Iran" and was the director of Raahi, a legal center for women which has since been closed. Ms. Sadr exemplifies the courage and self-sacrifice required of Alexander Prize recipients. She was presented with the prize at a ceremony held Nov. 11, 2010, at the Recital Hall in Santa Clara University's Performing Arts Center. Following is the text of her acceptance speech.
First of all, I would like to thank Katherine and George Alexander for initiating the law prize to give recognition to human rights lawyers around the world, those who normally are not given appreciation and recognition, but are suppressed and oppressed. I am much honored that the Katherine and George Alexander Law Prize committee found me worthy of this prize and I am very thankful to be present amongst you tonight. My special thanks is for Professor Cynthia Mertens for her kind efforts, and without whom I would not be at this ceremony speaking with you tonight. Before I start my speech, I would like to dedicate the honor of this year's Katherine And George Alexander Prize to two female activists who have sacrificed their lives for freedom and democracy: Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer and Nazanin Khosravani, a brave journalist and civil rights activist. Both of them now are behind bars, under high pressures depriving them of their basic rights. I would like to ask all of you for one minute's silence wishing them freedom and peace.
To be honest, choosing a topic for my speech tonight was both easy and difficult. It was easy because I knew I would be speaking to a crowd well aware of the violations of human rights in Iran. And it was difficult because I was not sure what comes to your minds when I say “violation of human rights in Iran.” Would it be the violent crushing of the demonstrators after the 2009 election? Would the torture and violation of the rights of the prisoners be what comes to your minds? Will you be reminded of the stoning sentences carried out? Would you remember the legal and executive discriminations against women? What about the details? How many names come to your minds? How many faces have been burned on your mind? How many victims? How many human rights violators? Do you remember any names at all or just an overall picture? Somewhere in the world that we can find on the map, with difficulty at times, human rights in general are being violated and in general, we oppose violations of human rights.
In truth, what are we speaking of when we talk about violations of human rights in Iran? Here it is exactly: We speak of a lengthy list of examples of violations of human rights in Iran that take place, that are widespread and systematic, in an increasing manner in all the areas, from women's rights to ethnic minority rights, from children's rights to religious minority rights, from freedom of expression and association to homosexual rights. However, today I do not wish to speak of this lengthy yet general list. Instead, I wish to express what human rights means for me-what am I speaking of when I talk about violations of human rights in Iran. Today, I wish to speak of those details that usually don't come to mind: of the names, the faces, the people.
When I started working with women who were sentenced to stoning, I was well aware of the laws pertaining to them in my legal capacity as an attorney. In my journalistic capacity, I had read the news about them in the journals aplenty. The news that spoke of a woman who was condemned for having extramarital affairs or of another who had killed the man who wanted to rape her and so on. Even so, those laws were merely a collection of dry words in books of law and those women, a few short sentences in the morning paper. When I met those women in prisons, when I agreed to represent them as their attorney and read their thick case files, when I shook their hands and kissed their cheeks in greetings, when I saw the fear of death fill their eyes and saw their children cry bitter tears of separations, I gave them hope and optimism and yet, my own heart was weary and devoid of all hope to be able to really do anything for them. Those women walked out of the case files and the newspapers and entered my life. Their names and faces became a recurring part of my dreams.
In this manner and through the “Stop Stoning Forever Campaign” my colleagues and I were able to rescue these women from the dusty archives of their case files and newspapers and tell their stories. They became names and acquired faces. They got attention as human beings and were no longer regarded as mere statistics in the discourse of human rights. Without a doubt, this was the most important reasons why they escaped execution and stoning and why the Iranian government was hard pressed through international pressures to insert amendments in the penal code, although unfortunately these amendments have not become finalized yet. In truth, publicizing real stories and giving names and identities to every single part of what was previously a shapeless mass of stoning victims, revitalized the desire to seek justice for those names within the society. Our stories about these women's lives, the legal discriminations they suffered, their poverty and illiteracy, not only highlighted their past, but also their future and that of all other nameless, faceless women like them. We gave these women names and faces, after which many of them got released. Perhaps it was not real justice in exchange for the years they spent in prison battling the nightmare of stoning every night and day, but we were able to slow the process of carrying out the punishment of stoning for women.
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