Through the generosity of longtime Los Altos Hills residents Katharine and George Alexander, the Santa Clara University School of Law Thursday awarded the 2010 law prize that bears their name to Shadi Sadr, an Iranian lawyer, journalist and women’s-rights activist.
Sadr’s tireless commitment to fighting injustice against women and defending wrongfully accused and imprisoned women in Iran makes her the ideal recipient of this year’s Katharine and George Alexander Law Prize, according to Cynthia Mertens, SCU’s associate dean of academic affairs, professor of law and member of the prize selection committee.
“Shadi has literally risked her own life to help women and journalists in Iran,” Mertens said.
After earning her law degree from the University of Tehran, Sadr represented female activists and journalists and established avenues to help Iranian women, including Raahi, a legal advice center for women, closed down by the Iranian government; Zanan-e Iran (Women of Iran), the first Web site dedicated to the work of Iranian women’s-rights activists; and Women’s Field, which has launched several campaigns, including the Stop Stoning Forever effort.
“We need to fight for democracy and human rights on a large scale,” Sadr said. “Everyone talks about nuclear issues, but not about human-rights issues.”
During a peaceful gathering outside a Tehran courtroom in March 2007 to protest the unjust arrest of five Iranian women accused of propaganda, Sadr was arrested and released two weeks later. After the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sadr was beaten and arrested by plainclothes militiamen in July 2009 while walking to Friday prayers. After worldwide outcry, authorities released her two weeks later, when she fled to Germany and continued to fight for women’s rights.
Last May, she was convicted, in absentia, in a Tehran court of “acting against national security and harming public order” and faces a sentence of six years in prison with 74 lashes.
Currently living in London with her 11-year-old daughter, Sadr has established Justice for Iran “to fight against impunity and hold human-rights’ violators accountable.”
“I’m so honored that I received this prestigious award,” Sadr said. “It gives me more credibility, and it’s a tool to raise my voice.”
In addition to fame and recognition, the award includes a substantial cash prize for the winner, made possible by a $1 million endowment by the Alexanders. Bestowed yearly, the award – first given in 2008 – recognizes courage and self-sacrifice in lawyers around the world who strive to use their careers to alleviate injustice and inequity.
George was professor of law at SCU for 34 years and has been Dean Emeritus of the law school for 15 years. Katharine practiced law for 25 years as a public defender for Santa Clara County and taught law courses for several years at San Jose State University.
The Alexanders’ intent is to recognize the many lawyers who dedicate their lives to furthering human rights and work to help others. Previous winners include Mario Joseph, a human-right’s attorney in Haiti, who received the award in 2009, and Bryan Stephenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, who won in 2008.
“We want to help shine light on that other side of lawyering,” George said. “Aside from teaching the rudiments of law, we want our program to stand for human rights.”
For more information, visit law.scu.edu/alexanderprize.