On 8 March 2011, while the world celebrates International Women's Day, human rights lawyer, journalist and activist Nasrin Soutadeh will have been in prison for six months, and faces another ten and a half years in jail. Her sentence is part of a systematic assault on human rights defenders and activists in Iran, many of whom are subject to arbitrary arrest, travel bans, closure of their organisations and harassment. PEN International is calling for Soutadeh's release, and an end to arrests and persecution of all those who speak out on human rights abuses.
Nasrin Sotoudeh, aged 47 and a mother of two young children, was arrested on 4 September 2010 when she was summoned to the special court in Evin prison on charges of "propaganda against the state", "cooperating with the Association of Human Rights Defenders" and "conspiracy to disturb order". The arrest followed a raid on her home and office by security officers on 29 August 2010, who confiscated her files and documents. Her lawyer was not allowed to represent her in court or accompany her client during questioning. She was sentenced to eleven years in jail by Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court on 9 January 2010. The court also banned her from practicing law and from leaving the country for twenty years.
Soutadeh is believed to be charged for critical interviews she gave to overseas media following the disputed June 2009 presidential election, and for her membership of the Association of Human Rights Defenders (see below for more details). The sentence comprises one year's imprisonment for "propaganda against the regime", and a total of ten years for the two charges of "acting against national security" and "violating the Islamic dress code (Hijab) in a filmed speech". She is appealing the sentence.
Soutadeh has spent much of her detention in solitary confinement at Tehran's Evin Prison. She has staged three hunger strikes to protest her prison conditions and violations of due process, and her physical condition is said to have deteriorated alarmingly. Since her arrest Nasrin Soutadeh has been allowed very limited access to her family and lawyer, in violation of the Iranian Penal Code which guarantees the right to weekly visits and receive phone calls from relatives. Concerns for her welfare are acute.
Nasrin Sotoudeh is best known as a human rights lawyer and activist, but has also worked as a journalist for several reformist newspapers including Jame'e. Since qualifying as a lawyer in 2003, she has specialised in women's and children's rights, and has continued to write articles on these issues. Many of her articles have been rejected for publication, including a report written for a special issue of Daricheh on women's rights for the occasion of 8 March (Women's Day) last year. Following the launch of the One Million Signatures Campaign for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws in August 2006 by several leading women's rights activists (http://www.change4equality.co.uk/en/), and the widespread growth of the women's rights movement in Iran, she has represented many women's rights activists including Parvin Ardalan, a well-known PEN case (see previous alerts). She is a close associate of exiled lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, and has represented many imprisoned Iranian opposition activists arrested in the unprecedented crackdown on dissent following the disputed presidential elections of 12 June 2009. Arrests are continuing, and many have been handed down lengthy sentences.
Click here to read some of Nasrin's articles in English translation:
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