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Prominent Women’s Rights Activist Faces 34 Years In Prison

Nasrin Sotoudeh at her home in Tehran. File photo
Nasrin Sotoudeh at her home in Tehran. File photo

Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh faces up to 34 years in prison and 148 lashes after being convicted in two trials that Amnesty International has called “grossly unfair.”

In a letter addressed to the mid-ranking cleric Ebrahim Raeisi, who is expected to replace Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani as Iran's chief justice, AI called for the immediately release the 55-year-old lawyer and human rights activist.

The charges against Sotoudeh stem solely from her peaceful human rights work, including her defense of women protesting Iran’s forced hijab (veiling) laws, and her outspoken opposition to the death penalty, AI said in its letter.

"She has been prosecuted on seven charges, some of which are related to her opposition to forced hijab laws, including 'inciting corruption and prostitution' and ‘openly committing a sinful act… by appearing in public without a hijab.’ Some of her legitimate activities that the authorities have cited as ‘evidence’ against her include: opposing forced hijab; removing her headscarf during prison visits; defending women who peacefully protested against forced hijab; giving media interviews about the violent arrest and detention of women protesting against forced hijab; and placing flowers at the scene where a woman protester was violently arrested. Other charges brought against her include 'forming a group with the purpose of disrupting national security' and are based, in part, on her work with three human rights groups including the Campaign for Step by Step Abolition of the Death Penalty" AI said.

Although Sotoudeh was initially charged with “spreading propaganda against the system” and “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security,” the judge convicted her on a charge not mentioned in the indictment, that of “assisting in hiding spies with the intent to harm national security,” citing activities such as her meetings with foreign diplomats to convict her. This case is now before an appellate court.

Meanwhile, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) in a statement issued March 5 said it forcefully condemns the conviction of the prominent Iranian defense attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh in a court process sorely "lacking in international standards of due process".

“No amount of spin will be able to conceal the fact that Sotoudeh is being persecuted for her peaceful defense of human rights in Iran, including a woman’s right to choose whether to wear a hijab,” said CHRI’s Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.

“The international community should band together to forcefully condemn the abhorrent treatment of this courageous defense lawyer and demand her release,” he added.

Though convicted, Sotoudeh has not yet received the verdict in writing, says her husband Reza Khandan.

Sotoudeh is held incommunicado in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, Khandan disclosed in an interview with Radio Farda January 13.

"The prison authorities have held Nasrin incommunicado after finding a small pair of scissors in her personal effects," Khandan said.

Khandan, who was himself recently released from Evin after months in custody, also told Radio Farda that because of the negligence of the prison authorities, the inmates have recently been forced to personally procure their food.

According to Khandan, Evin's authorities have decided to increase their pressure on female inmates to prevent leaks concerning the conditions in the prison.

Sotoudeh is the winner of numerous prestigious international awards, including the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write (2011), Southern Illinois University School of Law Rule of Law Citation (2011) and Sakharov Prize (2012).

In September 2018 she was also awarded the annual tribute for a lawyer, the 23rd Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize initially bestowed on Nelson Mandela in 1986 when in jail.