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Nasrin Sotoudeh: The Ardent, Passionate and Dedicated Attorney at Law


By Syma Sayyah, Tehran


There are thousands of hard working professional women in Iran who go about their work with great determination, zest and the highest level of professionalism.  At the same time they remain human, caring, kind and successful.  This is the story of one such lady, Nasrin Sotoudeh.



There are people who naturally inspire energy.  I got to know Nasrin through a mutual friend, an English child psychologist who has been to Iran a couple of times.  I had spoken with her several times on the phone but it was a delightful pleasure to finally meet her in person.  The name of this lovely daring and determined lawyer may be known to many of you especially recently as she has been the hard working and tough lawyer of many of the women activists recently arrested in Tehran.  She is also heavily involved in child abuse and human rights cases, and she is an active member of the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPRC).   She is very involved with the society’s legal section.


Nasrin Sotoudeh became a lawyer to help children and those subject to human rights abuse as well as women.  When she started her practice, the horror that she faced was completely beyond her expectation.  She found children as young as 11-12 under death sentence, many cases of child sexual abuse, violence against women and children, human rights abuse and cases involving defenders of democratic rights.   She can never rest to fight for the underprivileged and yet she must find the strength to do more.



She comes from a normal Iranian family and was in love with philosophy and although in her concours (university entrance exam) she got the rank of 53rd, she did not have sufficient marks to study philosophy, and so she went to study law and later finished her Masters at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran. 


She started her career at the Ministry of Housing legal office and after two years she joined the legal section of Bank Tejarat.  During her tenure at Bank Tejarat she was heavily involved with preparing the legal case and the legal arguments for many of the cases that Iran presented at The Hague during the Algeria court summons there.  She believes that Iran had a really bad deal by signing the Algerian decree, from the financial and legal point of view.  According to that decree, Iran had to put about one billion dollars in an account so that if any case was lost, damages would be paid.  This made the cases go mostly in favor of the Americans.


In 1995 she took the Bar (Kanoon Vokala) exam and passed and got her lawyers credentials at the age of 39, and she is one of most active members of the law society.


Nasrin’s hope is to see a better situation for women and children because she strongly believes that if this is achieved the rest of the improvements will follow automatically.  She disagrees with those who look at it solely from a political view and she thinks if the politics are sorted out, the conditions for women and children will improve.  



When she takes on a new case she tells her clients that “I shall do my best but I do not know the final verdict; we shall do our best to make your case legally viable, but the final outcome all depends on the court”


She told me of many child abuse cases that she has handled but I found interesting one recent one that she has been involved with.  It is often thought that child abuse happens mainly in poor or uneducated families.  In this particular case she said that the father, a well educated man, had been abusing his son since he was three years old.  The mother left her husband’s home and it was then that she found out what had been happening to the child, as he had been threatened with a gun by the father that if he spoke both he and his mother would be killed.


Despite the fact that this child has been interviewed by professional physiologists and his testimony has been confirmed by them, the court still found it hard to issue its verdict in favor of the mother for the custody of the child.  When I ask why, Nasrin told me that that they think such cases are bad and must not be made public!  She does not press for the penal case, as to her, even if the case is won and the father is convicted, what good would come out of it.   She thinks that many of these men are ill or victims of mistreatment in the past themselves, and in need of professional care and medication.   She tries very hard in her job to ensure that abused children are not returned to their fathers, where they can expect to be abused again.  She also hopes that the courts will make better use of child specialists and psychologists in verifying abuse cases and save these innocent children, rather then cover up such cases.



In her practice she endures a lot of stress, as many of the cases that she handles, such as children, women and human rights, are very emotionally moving cases.  So when I commented on her ability to stay so calm, she said “I need to stay calm in order to manage my case properly and efficiently, by losing my temper I lose management of my case”.  She has had many well known clients, such as Nahid Keshavarz, Parvin Ardalan, Omid Memarian, Roya Tolouie and many well known child abuse and criminal cases.


She believes that the courts want to improve the well-being of women and children, yet they do not wish to disturb the status quo.  She is adamant like me and all of you that no child should ever be hanged no matter what they have done.


When we got to talk about women in Iran it seemed that we both strongly believe that women’s liberation is a double edged sword.  We both believe that women should work and earn their living as simply as they expect to be educated and they should use their education to get a job, earn a living and make a social contribution.  She said that women should make sure that when they get married, they clearly obtain the right to work, the place to live and the right to divorce on their marriage certificate.  Nasrin thinks that for modern women the mehrieh (the dowry that is given to the wife in case of divorce) should be symbolic;   however for those in the provinces and the lower sides of society, the mehrieh, along with the children, is one of the reasons that keep many families together.



She had told me before Norouz (Iranian New Year) that she was expecting and she would like to take things a little easier but this wish will not be easy.  I had imagined her to be much taller and bigger.  This tiger lady is softly spoken and quite slim, despite being in her 4th month of pregnancy.  She has an 8 year old daughter already and has been married for many years.  She told me that her husband Reza who is in advertising is truly a modern man, meaning that he shares all of their joint life together especially caring for their daughter and housework.  He never complains about her work and the strange hours she keeps.  She told me that not only does Reza help her a lot but he also believes in true democracy like her and at home the vote of majority always rules.  He is a great father and a wonderful husband and a fantastic friend and stands by her and for her in her work and struggles.  She said that she used to like grey but recently, her favorite color is pink. It may be because that her daughter wears pink so often and she loves her so much.  Nasrin loves to travel as she believes that there is nothing like real experience, after all you have to get your hands dirty in order to understand how plants grow.


I am sure you will all join me in wishing Nasrin Sotoudeh health and strength in her work to bring justice and fairness for all those to whom she so passionately devotes herself and her time and hope that she will have a healthy baby at the end of the summer to bring more joy to her and her family.


... Payvand News - 5/29/07 ...

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