Nasrin Sotoudeh is a lawyer, human rights campaigner and women’s rights activist.
Nasrin has defended the rights of many activists who have been arrested, tried unfairly and jailed, including Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi. Nasrin has spoken publicly about the shortcomings of the Iranian legal system and is famous for defending young offenders on death row. Her activities made her a target, and she was arrested in September 2010.
In January 2011, Nasrin was sentenced to 11 years in prison. In mid-September 2011, the Appeals Court reduced her prison sentence to 6 years and a ban against practising law from 20 years to 10. The charges against her include “acts against national security”, “anti-regime propaganda” and belonging to the Centre for Human Rights Defenders.
For most of the past year, Nasrin Sotoudeh has been in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Three hunger strikes have weakened her health. She took that drastic action to protest her imprisonment, lack of trial and her conditions of detention.
Her detention affects many others. By repressing lawyers like Nasrin and by marginalizing the Iranian Bar Association, the government denies other critics of the government the right to access competent legal representation. One of her own lawyers is currently in detention, too. Nasrin’s husband, Reza Khandan, was pressured with threats and brief imprisonment to make his wife stop her activities. He remains at risk of further harassment and faces a possible trial and imprisonment. They have two children.
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Nasrin received the 2011 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. She belongs to several organizations including the One Million Signatures Campaign to Change Discriminatory Laws Against Women, and the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child.
Amnesty International considers Nasrin Sotoudeh to be a prisoner of conscience because she is in custody only for peacefully exercising her rights to freedom of expression and association. This includes her professional work as a lawyer.
In the words of Nasrin’s husband, Reza Khandan:
“If any government can block the power of a human rights attorney, its hands are free to treat its critics and opponents in any manner it desires. Unfortunately the international community allowed the government to break this barrier.”
Nasrin Sotoudeh, as you will know, was sentenced on Sunday, 9th January 2011, to 11 years imprisonment.
Reportedly, this includes 5 years for ‘violating the Islamic dress code (Hejab)’ in a filmed acceptance speech, in which she was accepting a Human Rights Prize by the International Committee on Human Rights, in 2008. She was not permitted to leave the country, at the time, to travel to Italy to accept the award.
A further 5 years of the sentence is for ‘acting against the national security of the country’ and 1 year is for ‘propaganda against the regime’.
She has also been banned from practising law and leaving the country for 20 years. It is possible that an appeal against the sentence can be requested within 20 days.
Nasrin’s husband, Reza, was summoned to the Revolutionary Court. In a statement, he said:
“I have been asked to appear at Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court. In the written summons, the word ‘defendant’ was used when referring to me. Of course I was also summoned once about ten to twelve days before my wife was arrested and at the time I was warned about the interviews I had given.”
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says the ‘UN Human Rights Council Should Act to Address the Crisis.’ The ICHRI also says that Nasrin has ‘reportedly been tortured in prison in order to force her to confess to crimes’.
I would like to draw your attention to important legal points raised recently by renowned Human Rights Lawyer, Mehrangiz Kar, when discussing Ms Sotoudeh’s case:
“Under the concept of a fair trial, the key thing is to have access to lawyers and this is not being practiced. It is routinely being violated.
Article 168 of the Iranian constitution states:
‘All political prisoners are afforded right to a jury trial and must be public’.
When there is not a jury during the trial, that trial is not legal even under the Islamic Republic’s structure. This has been routinely violated since the 2009 elections.”
On December 10, 2011 Nasrin Sotoudeh the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran launched the “Free Sotoudeh Project,” a campaign aimed at building international support for the release of imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and highlighting the tragic situation of Iranian prisoners of conscience.