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Prominent Rights Lawyer To Be Tried By Controversial Judge

Iranian rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been persecuted by the Islamic Republic for the past almost for a decade.
Iranian rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been persecuted by the Islamic Republic for the past almost for a decade.

The bill of indictment against prominent Iranian lawyer and civil rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh has been delivered to the Revolutionary Court, her attorney, Payam Derafshan, disclosed on December 15.

Judge Mohammad Moghiseh, head of Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, is expected to preside over Sotoudeh's hearing.

However, Moghiseh is the same judge who was sued by Sotoudeh's lawyers Derafshan and Mohammad Moghimi last September.

The lawyers filed a lawsuit against Moghiseh accusing him of unlawful sentencing and displaying a lack of impartiality in their client’s case.

Derafshan published details of the lawsuit on his Instagram account on September 29.

His post stated that in 2015, Moghiseh sentenced Sotoudeh to five years in prison for espionage even though she was on trial for propaganda against the state, which carries a maximum one-year prison sentence. Even if she had committed espionage, the maximum penalty for that charge is three years in prison, noted the lawyers, according to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

Derafshan said there are only two cases against his client. One is related to a complaint tabled by an interrogating judge in the city of Kashan and the other to Sotoudeh's membership in LEGAM, a group whose Persian acronym stands for banning the death penalty step by step.

Moghiseh sentenced Sotoudeh in absentia to five years’ imprisonment in a legal case incompatible with the indictments issued against her, Derafshan said.

Sotoudeh was originally charged with insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Derafshan noted. "But the head of Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran has issued a verdict that is exclusively for criminals suspected of espionage."

The lawyers protested the verdict, but Moghiseh announced that from the court's point of view, the charge against Soutodeh was espionage.

Sotoudeh, 55, has represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists and politicians following the controversial June 2009 Iranian presidential elections as well as prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors.

Her clients have included Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and anti-compulsory hijab activists known as the Girls of Revolution Street.

Since December 2017, scores of Iranian women have been arrested for peacefully protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law by removing and waving their headscarves on busy streets. At least three of the women have been officially charged for acts of civil disobedience.

Sotoudeh was first arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and was imprisoned in solitary confinement at Evin Prison. In January 2011, Iranian authorities sentenced her to 11 years in prison, in addition to barring her from practicing law and from leaving the country for 20 years. An appeals court later reduced the prison sentence to six years and her ban from working as a lawyer to 10 years. The Iranian Bar Association allowed Sotoudeh to represent suspects in cases not directly related to political charges or the country's security affairs.

After being released in September 2013, she was arrested again on June 13.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Iranian authorities have escalated their crackdown on lawyers. Over the past month, Revolutionary Courts have sentenced at least three lawyers to long prison terms for human rights activism and security forces have arrested another lawyer, HRW said in a statement on December 13.

“Now Iran is not only arresting dissidents, human rights defenders, and labor leaders but their lawyers as well, criminalizing their fundamental freedoms,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW. “Lawyers should be the cornerstone of protecting the rights of the accused, but in Iran, they are just another enemy of repressive authorities.”