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Jailed Rights Defender Says Prison Or Not, It Makes No Difference In Iran

Lawyer and human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh smiles at her home in Tehran, September 18, 2013. File photo

"In an era of injustice in Iran, being behind bars, or not, makes no difference", the renowned imprisoned Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, has told French publication, L'Obs, previously known as Le Nouvel Observateur.

L'obs has introduced Ms. Sotoudeh as the number one enemy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, adding she is a tiny, short-haired, pale, and dainty woman who is trembling for her life every time she goes on a hunger strike to protest the conditions of her detention.

The interview was conducted in writing and published in the latest issue of L'Obs on November 7.

Sotoudej, who has been imprisoned for the past seventeen months in Tehran's notorious prison, Evin, insists, "In Iran, we are always prisoners---You might think that I am exaggerating, but when our main concern is the absence of justice in our society, being imprisoned or not does not make any difference."

Mother of two, Sotoudeh, 56, was arrested in 2018 and convicted for her peaceful activities defending women's right to choose their dress style. Although there is no written law in Iran for compulsory hijab, the police and courts spend considerable resources to force women to use the veil.

She has been sentenced to a total of 33 years and 148 lashes, that twelve years of it is obligatory.

"Since the Iranian society is deprived of liberty, I might yearn for freedom, but being a female attorney defending suspects in unfair trials is much more excruciating than bearing the burden of imprisonment," Sotoudeh says in her written interview with L'Obs.

Furthermore, Sotoudeh has noted that the political environment has become more "radicalized" than ever, punishments are much heavier.

In women's ward in Evin prison, there are several ladies charged with espionage, which is quite unprecedented, Sotoudeh has disclosed.

In another part of the interview, Sotoudeh has affirmed that the main reason behind her imprisonment was the fact that, along with the activists inside and outside Iran, she had signed a statement, demanding a referendum to decide the country's future political system.

Meanwhile, the fragile, tiny lawyer says that she had every right to defend girls who recently took off their scarves in busy streets across Iran to protest compulsory hijab or ignoring the so-called Islamic dress code.

Sotoudeh has also defended her membership in LEGAM (Persian acronym for banning the death penalty), noting, "None of my actions were against the Islamic Republic's laws. However, the powe' (dominating Iran) does not tolerate such actions, and illegally prosecutes anyone involved."

Why the question of hijab is so fundamental for the Islamic Republic that it has tied it to its very existence, L'Obs has asked, and Sotoudeh has admitted that she did not know the answer.

"I really don't know. I cannot even speculate about it. You should raise the question with the Islamic Republic authorities," Sotoudeh has averred, adding, "The freedom of choice is fundamental to me. Compulsory hijab, I believe, is an insult. In the meantime, I am deeply concerned about my daughter's future."

Moreover, Sotoudeh has referred to some of her inmates, including the prominent lawyer, Gity Pourfazel, 75, who has been held in custody for defending the victims of human rights violations.

Many of my co-prisoners, Sotoudeh has revealed, are women who had protested compulsory hijab.

"There are 44 inmates in the women's ward in Evin prison, which is unprecedented, since the ward was constructed 8 years ago," Sotoudeh has noted.

Coming from a middle-class family, Sotoudeh has also said that one of the main topics of conversation among the inmates in Evin is what has transpired in countries such as Argentina, Chile, and South Africa.

Sotoudeh, appointed by President Emmanuel Macron of France as a legal advisor to the G7's last gathering in August 2019, in Biarritz, while she was in jail, insists that despite the disappointing situation in Iran, she was "deeply optimistic" about the future.