The European Film Academy and the Berlin International Film Festival, known as Berlinale, have jointly called for the immediate release of renowned Iranian lawyer and human rights defender, Nasrin Sotoudeh, featured in Jafar Panahi's Golden Bear-winning "Taxi."
Ms. Sotoudeh has been on a hunger strike since August 10, protesting the dire condition of political prisoners and demanding their immediate release amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
A mother of two, Sotoudeh won the American Pen Association Award in 2011. Two years later, Sotoudeh, along with Iranian director Jafar Panahi who was also sentenced to prison, won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize.
Sotoudeh appeared in a sequence from Panahi's film "Taxi," which won the Berlinale's Golden Bear Award in 2015. As the last passenger of Panahi's "Taxi," Sotoudeh talked about her commitment to defending political prisoners across the Shi'ite clergy-dominated Iran.
Before landing in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, Sotoudeh represented dozens of political, women, and students' rights activists in the courts presided by the Twelver-Shi'ite clergy and ultraconservative judges.
She was initially arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading anti-regime propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and was imprisoned in solitary confinement.
Less than four months later, the Iranian judiciary sentenced her to eleven years in prison, barring her from practicing law and leaving the country for twenty years. Later that year, an appeals court reduced her sentence to six years, and her practice ban to ten years.
However, in June 2018, she was again arrested, and on March 12, 2019, she was sentenced to jail in Tehran after being charged with several national security-related offenses. One judge told Iran's official News Agency (IRNA) that she was imprisoned for seven years, while other sources reported that her sentence included ten years in prison and 148 lashes, or that six other verdicts equaled a sentence totaling 38 years.
Based on the Iranian Islamic penal code, Sotoudeh is obliged to serve twelve years of her sentence behind bars.
Berlinale and the European Film Academy also called on all film and cinema lovers and cultural institutions worldwide to join the American PEN Association's call for Sotoudeh's release.
In addition to the statement published on the official website of the PEN's website, the director of its "Freedom of Expression at Risk" wing, Karin Deutsch Karlekar, expressed concern over Sotoudeh's health and fate in prison.
As Karlekar said in a statement on August 28, "Nasrin Sotoudeh spent her life defending the human rights of Iranians, especially women. On August 11, she started her second hunger strike this year to protest the maltreatment of Iranian political prisoners vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged the country's prisons. She is now facing the direst of consequences for her activism and expression. Her life hangs in the balance. We call on Iran's government to rescind the unjust sentences meted out to Nasrin and other political prisoners."
Referring to Iran's pressure on Sotoudeh's family, especially the freezing of their bank accounts, PEN says that all charges against the civil activist should be dropped as soon as possible and threats against her family should be stopped.