Imprisoned Iranian Lawyer Awarded Sakharov Prize, Family Says She Is in Critical Condition
The European Parliament today awarded its prestigious Sakharov Prize for human rights and freedom of thought to imprisoned Iranian lawyer and human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh and prominent filmmaker Jafar Panahi. Both awardees have been sentenced to long prison sentences in Iran and bans on travel and their careers because of their opposition to the country’s leadership.
A few hours after the Sakharov Prize was announced, Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan expressed his delight about the Sakharov award in an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “We are happy for the prize, but her condition in prison is worsening,” he said. “We haven’t heard from her since Sunday [October 21], and we heard from one of her cellmates who came out of prison yesterday that her physical condition is very bad.”
Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent Iranian lawyer currently serving a six-year sentence for “acting against national security,” “collusion and propagation against the Islamic Republic,” and “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center,” embarked on a wet hunger strike on October 17 to protest her prison conditions and the treatment of her family. Sotoudeh has been denied in-person visitations with her family on several occasions, and her 12-year-old daughter was recently summoned and banned from foreign travel, without charges.
Describing prison authorities’ reaction to hunger strikes, Khandan told the Campaign, “Usually when a prisoner goes on hunger strike, the prison authorities let her reach the verge of death before they let the family know. But if they told the family earlier they might be able to ask her to break the strike. I’ve heard that the clinic inside the prison is not capable of providing proper medical services unless they transfer the prisoner to a clinic out of prison. She was in the prison’s clinic until Wednesday [October 24], but has been returned to her cell since then.”
In discussing his wife’s health, Khandan expressed exasperation with the prison’s treatment of her, especially the deprivation of her visitation rights with her husband and two young children. “If [Tehran’s] Prosecutor had issued a letter that Nasrin could meet with her family in person, it surely would have avoided her going on hunger strike. But they shut down all hope and push the prisoner to the point where her life is in danger. We’re not asking for any special privileges. We’re not trying to release her, even though she is innocent, but why they are creating all these tensions? Why must a prisoner, a mother, be deprived from visiting her family in person or calling her family from prison?”
In a previous interview, on October 22, Khandan described Sotoudeh’s physical appearance to the Campaign. “Yesterday [Sunday, October 21], when Nasrin came to the visit, she appeared very thin and weak, to the point that we were all shocked. She appeared a lot more frail after five days of hunger strike, as compared to two years ago, when she was on a hunger strike for 28 days. The reason for this is quite clear. She has lost her strength over the past two years in prison and she no longer has the strength for a hunger strike. I am seriously worried for her since I saw her yesterday. No matter how hard I tried to talk her out of the hunger strike, Nasrin had no interest in breaking it.”
The Campaign launched an interactive online campaign for her release in December 2011, which has garnered international support. (Click on the picture)
Nasrin Sotoudeh, lawyer and human rights activist, was arrested on September 4, 2010, and was later sentenced to 11 years in prison, 20 years’ ban on her legal practice, and 20 years’ ban on foreign travel. An appeals court later reduced her sentence to 6 years in prison and the ban on legal practice to 10 years. Since her arrest, she has embarked on wet and dry hunger strikes several times to protest her illegal treatment in prison.
The other recipient of the Sakharov Prize, Jafar Panahi, is a world-renowned Iranian filmmaker who has been banned from making films for 20 years. In 2010, Iranian authorities arrested Jafar Panahi on charges of “propagating against the Islamic Republic of Iran.” In addition to the ban, an Iranian court sentenced him to six years in prison, and he has been under house arrest awaiting the summons to prison. Panahi has made two films since the ban, including “This Is Not a Film,” which was screened at the Cannes and New York Film Festivals in late 2011. Panahi’s arrest and charges are part of a larger crackdown on Iranian artists , especially filmmakers.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded annually by the European Parliament to individuals who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought. The first prize, in 1988, was awarded to Nelson Mandela and Anatoly Marchenko. The award of this year’s Sakharov Prize to these two Iranians comes in the same week that the UN Special Rapporteur presented his report on the situation of human rights in Iran and that a special tribunal in The Hague presented its investigation into the killings of more than 20,000 political prisoners in Iran in the 1980s.