Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer in Iran, has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for advocating against forced veiling laws in her country. Her activism has been instrumental in defending women who peacefully oppose these discriminatory laws in Iran. On June 13, 2018, Iranian authorities arrested Nasrin in her home in Tehran and have since held her in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. The prosecution charged Nasrin with “inciting corruption and prostitution”, “disrupting public order”, “openly committing a sinful act by… appearing in public without a hijab”, among others. Authorities denied Nasrin access to a lawyer, held two trials in her absence, and handed down an extreme sentence.
Nasrin’s case is not an isolated injustice. Dozens of women could face long jail sentences for peacefully protesting forced veiling laws. Laws mandating forced veiling have violated women’s rights in Iran for decades, including their rights to non-discrimination, freedom of belief and religion, freedom of expression, and protection from arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Laws targeting women for opposing forced veiling have similar impact.
Amnesty International supports the right of women to choose their mode of dress. Coercion by state or private actors to ensure compliance with rules of traditional, cultural or religious forms of dress violate women’s rights to freedom of expression and to freedom of religion or belief. Women must be free to decide for themselves what they want to wear on the basis of their own personal religious convictions, cultural customs or for any other reason. States must not, therefore, impose generally applicable requirements that women dress or do not dress in a certain way, and they must also protect women from the imposition of such requirements by third parties. This applies equally to women being compelled or prohibited from wearing a headscarf.
Many in Iran are working to make these rights real. Despite the violence, Iranian women and men are protesting these restrictive veiling laws. Many have joined a movement known as White Wednesdays, when they courageously take off their headscarves and wave them on sticks in direct violation of the law. These protests have led to multiple arrests and harassment of female protesters. Under Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, any act considered “offensive” to public decency can be punished with a jail term of between 10 days and two months or 74 lashes. This law applies to girls as young as nine years old, and in practice, authorities have imposed compulsory veiling on girls as young as seven. Women and girls face harassment and violence from state agents on a daily basis. Morality police and pro-government thugs routinely stop women in the streets to insult and threaten them, order them to pull their headscarves forward to hide strands of hair or force them to wipe off their make-up. Morality police are known to physically assault women, often slapping them, beating them, or handcuffing and detaining them.
Non-discrimination, specifically the right to be treated equally, regardless of our race, ethnicity, nationality, class, caste, religion, belief, sex, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, health or other status, is a key principle of international human rights law. It is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and included in several treaties ratified by Iran, notably the UN Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. States have an obligation under international law to respect the human rights of everyone without discrimination: to protect them against abuse of those rights by third parties, including private actors within their families or communities, and to ensure they are able to exercise those rights in practice.
Iran must stop the systematic persecution of women who stand up to peacefully defend their rights. Nasrin Sotoudeh must be released immediately and unconditionally. Her sentence is the harshest one recorded against a human rights defender in Iran in recent years, suggesting that the authorities are stepping up their repression.
Take action and sign the petition to call on the Supreme Leader of Iran to release her immediately and unconditionally.