Iran: Free Women’s Human Rights Defender Nasrin Sotoudeh on her Birthday!

by Elise Auerbach, Iran Country Specialist, AIUSA and the AIUA Women’s Coordinating Group

Nasrin Sotoudeh is a world-renowned Iranian human rights attorney and recipient of numerous prizes and accolades, including the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Parliament. However instead of honoring such an eminent citizen, the Iranian authorities sentenced her to an astonishing 38 years in prison plus 148 lashes solely for her peaceful advocacy and representation of her clients — one of the harshest sentences ever handed down to a prisoner of conscience in Iran. If she has to serve this entire sentence, she will be in her nineties by the time she is released.

This week Amnesty International is promoting a Global Week of Action for Ms. Sotoudeh, whose birthday is today, May 30th. Activists can show their support for Ms. Sotoudeh by posting photos of themselves on social media. Amnesty International has also collected more than 600,000 signatures on a petition to Iran’s Supreme Leader calling for her release. Wish Ms. Sotoudeh a happy birthday by signing the petition now.

Nasrin Sotoudeh represented women targeted by Iranian authorities for protesting forced hijab (veiling),. Ms. Sotoudeh believes veiling should be a woman’s choice and not something imposed by the government. In response, Iranian authorities convicted her on several spurious national security-related charges including “forming a group with the purpose of disrupting national security”, “spreading propaganda against the system” and “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security.” She first found out the government sentenced her to five years in prison for “assisting in hiding spies with the intent to harm national security, ” a sentence imposed in absentia when she was arrested in June 2018. In March 2019 authorities sentenced her to an additional 33 years imprisonment plus the 148 lashes.

Most recently, Iranian authorities have used Ms. Sotoudeh’s activities as a human rights lawyer, such as meeting with her clients, to build a criminal case against her. The other national security-related charges relate to her membership in human rights groups including the Center for Human Rights Defenders and the Campaign for Step by Step Abolition of the Death Penalty.

Her trial took place in her absence on December 30, 2018 before Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. The same court tried her in absentia in September 2016. In that earlier court verdict, the authorities accused her of working with “counter-revolutionaries” to threaten national security, and of “holding secret meetings with foreign diplomats and people who were suspected of being intelligence officers based in foreign embassies in Tehran” under the “pretext” of human rights. It also stated that “she had been given €50,000 for the Sakharov Prize so that she could sustain her activities against national security and for the overthrow of the state” although Amnesty International understands that she has never received a monetary award for the prize.

In December 2018 the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a motion urging the Iranian authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release Nasrin Sotoudeh; commends Nasrin Sotoudeh for her courage and commitment; urges the judiciary system of Iran to respect due process and fair trial and disclose information on the charges against Nasrin Sotoudeh.”

Ms. Sotoudeh, a mother of two, has defended Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi and other human rights activists, as well as juvenile offenders sentenced to death. In 2010, Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 11 years in prison (later reduced to 6 years on appeal) for the charges of “acting against national security,” “collusion and propaganda against the regime,” and “membership in the Center for Human Rights Defenders.” She was granted early release in September 2013 after serving three years.

The persecution of Nasrin Sotoudeh is just one example of the Iranian government’s pernicious campaign against human rights attorneys who struggle to carry out their work and represent their clients in a deeply flawed legal system.

Nasrin Sotoudeh’s husband, human rights defender Reza Khandan, was sentenced to prison for “gathering and collusion with intent to commit crimes against national security” and one year for “spreading propaganda against the system” in relation to his support of the campaign against forced hijab. Mr. Khandan also campaigned for the release of his wife. He is currently out on bail and appealing his conviction and sentence. Several other women and men have also been targeted for their peaceful activism in support of women’s rights to choose whether or not to wear hijab.

Join activists worldwide in wishing Nasrin a happy birthday. Sign the petition here and upload a photo to social media today.

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