Nasrin Sotoudeh: How An Iranian Human Rights Defender Ended Up In Prison

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Nasrin Sotoudeh: How An Iranian Human Rights Defender Ended Up In Prison
Nasrin Sotoudeh: How An Iranian Human Rights Defender Ended Up In Prison

Dmitry Kurkin

Tehran's Revolutionary Court recognizes Iranian human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh is guilty of "spreading anti-state propaganda", "espionage" and "insulting the supreme leader of the Islamic republic", Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iranian state news agency IRNA reports that Sotoudeh was sentenced to seven years in prison; however, her husband, activist Reza Handan, claims that the judge's verdict refers to “decades” in prison (the sources say it is thirty-eight years) and 148 lashes. By the time the verdict was announced, Sotude was already serving a five-year sentence.

Human rights groups have already expressed their outrage at the verdict: Amnesty International officials called it "shocking" and called for the immediate release of Sotoude. International observers also note that the current - unusually harsh even by Iranian standards - the verdict speaks of a change in the political climate and the balance of power within the country.

Having practiced law since the mid-nineties, Nasrin Sotoudeh is one of the most active Iranian human rights defenders. For years, she has defended the rights of women and children subjected to domestic violence and sexual abuse, and campaigned for the abolition of the death penalty in Iran. In addition, she has represented many opposition politicians, journalists and activists in court, including women, who protested against the mandatory wearing of the hijab.

In some cases, Sotude turned out to be almost the only specialist in the country on whose legal assistance the accused could count (among whom was her fellow human rights defender, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi). People who knew Sotude noted both her fearlessness and absolute equanimity at court hearings. “I have a responsibility to remain calm in order to conduct business professionally and effectively. Losing my composure, I lose control over my business,”Nasrin herself said in a 2007 interview.

In 2010, the country's authorities for the first time accused Sotude of "spreading propaganda" and "harming national security." Then she was sentenced to eleven years in prison, a twenty-year ban on legal activity and a ban on leaving the country (after the appeal, the sentence was reduced to six years, the ban on the profession - to ten). During her first imprisonment, human rights activist and director Jafar Panakhi, who was arrested with her, was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Sotoude went on hunger strike twice to protest not being allowed to communicate with her family. The second hunger strike, which lasted forty-nine days, hit her health especially hard: Reza Handan reported that his wife had problems with vision and coordination.

People who knew Sotude noted both her fearlessness and

and absolute equanimity at court hearings

In September 2013, Sotude, along with ten other political prisoners, was released from prisons without an official explanation of the reasons. The sudden amnesty happened a few days before the speech at the UN by Hassan Rugani, who had recently been elected president of Iran and was trying to establish a dialogue with the West.

In 2018, mass arrests took place in Iran: according to Amnesty International estimates, the police took into custody about 7,000 dissidents - representatives of religious minorities, trade union leaders, environmental activists and human rights defenders. The latter predictably included Sotude, who defended anti-hijab activists, and Hamdan. Both were charged with various charges of "violating state security"; Hamdan was sentenced to six years, Sotuda five.

Observers also draw attention to the fact that in early March, shortly before the verdict of Sotouda, an associate and possible successor to the eighty-year-old Ayatollah Khamenei, Ibrahim Raisi, who is said to be responsible for the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988, was appointed head of the Iranian judiciary. In 2017, he ran for president, but lost the election to current president Rouhani. Raisi's current appointment may indicate attempts by religious leaders to weaken Rouhani's influence and, at the same time, suppress anti-clerical oppositionists. Therefore, alas, one cannot count on the mitigation of sentences for Sotuda and her fellow human rights defenders.

As for corporal punishment, their use is still widespread in the Islamic republic. And it's not just about lashes, which, according to Iranian law, punish over a hundred different offenses - including those that are traditionally considered administrative, such as drinking alcoholic beverages in public places (up to a hundred blows). Such cruel punishments as cutting off fingers and toes and blinding are still in use. Iran is believed to be second only to China in the number of executions carried out in recent years.

PHOTOS: Arash Ashourinia / TASS

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