Iran: Feminist activists risk death marching for the release of human rights lawyer Nasrin Soutadeh Print E-mail

\ March 10 2011

 Iran: Activists March on International Women’s Day

Submitted by the Wire Team
March 8, 2011: Iranian women’s rights activists marched and risked their lives today on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day for the release of Iranian women’s and human rights lawyer Nasrin Soutadeh, who has spent over six months in prison for allegedly acting against state security, assembling, and collusion with intent to disrupt national security. She was also charged for working with the Center for Human Rights Defenders, which was founded by Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi. Soutedeh’s arrest is one in a systematic attack on feminist human rights lawyers and activists in Iran, many of whom have been arrested, prohibited from traveling, and have had their organizations closed.

Sotoudeh was arrested in September and received an 11 year prison sentence at her trial November 15. In addition to the 11 year prison sentence, the court has prohibited Sotoudeh from practicing law or leaving Iran for the next 20 years. Before her arrest, Sotoudeh was a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign working to end the legalazed discrimination against women and on the board of directors of the Society for Defense of Children’s Rights.

Sotoudeh, who has been in Evin Prison since September 4, went on a hunger strike to protest the conditions of her illegal arrest. After ending her hunger strike for a few days, she started a dry hunger strike, protesting her deprivation of her legal rights, such as the right to telephone calls and visits from her family members and her two young children along with the gross mishandling of her case. She broke her dry hunger strike on November 11 and ended her hunger strike, which lasted a total of 50 days, following the trial.

Source: Ms. Magazine

 London ~ Tuesday 8 March 2011, page 36

The riskiest job in Iran

As the regime targets lawyers like Nasrin Sotoudeh, who will defend our rights now?

By Shirin Ebadi

Jailed Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, accused of propaganda against the state, and acting contrary to national security. (Guardian)

Not so long ago, my colleague Nasrin Sotoudeh was the lawyer so many of us human rights defenders in Iran would call when our government harassed us or put one of us, or one of our family members, in jail. Sadly it is now Nasrin who is in jail. The government's accusations against her include acting contrary to "national security", "propaganda against the state", and "membership" of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, an organisation I founded in 2001. The government has also accused her of failing to wear hijab, the traditional Islamic covering for women. On some of these trumped-up charges she has been sentenced to 11 years in jail, and is now banned from practising law for 20 years.

This courageous 45-year-old mother of two young children is one of many in Iran who are targeted – and punished – for speaking up for the rights of others. Women are all too frequently on the receiving end of the Iranian regime's wrath – as we know from the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, sentenced to be stoned to death for allegedly committing adultery. But what makes Nasrin's case especially poignant is that it raises a fundamental question about Iran's future. If the people who come to the defence of people whose human rights are violated cannot do their jobs, who will ensure that such values as equality and justice are upheld in Iran?

Iranian authorities arrested Nasrin at Tehran's notorious Evin prison last September, during a visit to a client who is a political prisoner. Since then Nasrin has spent most of her time in solitary confinement. To protest against her illegal arrest, Nasrin has gone on several hunger strikes. Iranian officials have denied her access to a lawyer, and for the first month she was not allowed to talk to her family, even on the phone. At one point authorities detained her husband for speaking publicly about his wife's case.

Why is the Iranian government so afraid of Nasrin Sotoudeh? It is clearly frustrated that an Iranian woman's work is shining a light on the deplorable human rights situation in Iran. Nasrin is fearless in taking on cases that other lawyers carefully avoid, and for that she has earned respect around the globe. She took on the case of Zahra Bahrami, a Dutch-Iranian who was arrested for participating in post-election demonstrations in 2009. Zahra was denied her right to an appeal and, despite the intervention of Dutch authorities and a call by the European Union not to go ahead, she was executed without warning on 29 January.

Nasrin was my lawyer in a complaint I filed against Kayhan, a conservative newspaper, and she also defended me when Iranian authorities seized my assets in 2009. Nasrin has also taken on cases involving juvenile executions – Iran is one of the few countries in the world that still puts children to death. Nasrin's case, among others, is making Iran's failure to uphold basic human rights increasingly obvious. This is why some countries are pushing for a United Nations human rights council resolution on Iran, with a special rapporteur to carry out investigations into human rights abuses there. Such a push is encouraging, but it will still take a few more countries to reach a majority within the council.

Before her arrest the authorities summoned Nasrin to the tax office and froze her assets. While she was there she realised that the government was carrying out similar "investigations" of at least 30 other lawyers. If Iran is jailing its human rights defenders we need to step up efforts to ensure that justice is upheld there. Such concrete international action would be, in my mind, the best way to honour my colleague Nasrin.
 March 2011

8 March 2011 – International Women’s Day

Crackdown on Women's Rights Activists in Iran

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 (, 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: