Prominent Attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh Detained Amid Iranian Judiciary’s Crackdown on Human Rights Lawyers
Sotoudeh Informed of Five-Year Sentence For Unknown Charges Shortly After Announcing Sit-In Against List of Vetted Lawyers
June 13, 2018—The Iranian Judiciary should immediately release Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent Iranian human rights attorney who was arrested in her home by unidentified agents on June 13, 2018, and taken to Evin Prison in Tehran.
Her husband Reza Khandan, who wrote about Sotoudeh’s arrest on his Facebook page, informed CHRI that the agents told Sotoudeh that she must serve a five-year prison sentence without providing further details. He added that he and Sotoudeh were unaware of any sentence that had been issued against her.
“The Iranian Judiciary should cease its cowardly and unlawful actions of jailing and harassing human rights lawyers and immediately release Nasrin Sotoudeh,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“The arrest of this distinguished attorney, who has dedicated her life to defending detainees held on politically motivated charges, reveals the state’s fear of those who defend due process and the rule of law in Iran,” he added.
The high-profile attorney has been detained amid a state crackdown on human rights lawyers that includes a judiciary-issued list allowing only 20 state-approved lawyers to take on cases involving activists, dissidents and anyone else targeted for political reasons by the state. Sotoudeh previously told CHRI she and other lawyers were organizing a sit-in to protest the list.
Her arrest comes a day after Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani defended the list, claiming it is in the “public interest.” Speaking in an interview with the judiciary’s official news service, Mizan, on June 11, Larijani also criticized lawyers who have spoken out against the list, claiming it “prevents attempts to let suspects escape justice in security cases.”
“I once told agents in the interrogation room, ‘Out of all the things that a state should be doing for the country, you only know how to nab people,’” wrote Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan in his Facebook post on his wife’s arrest.
Sotoudeh, who previously served three years in Evin Prison for peacefully engaging in the legal profession in Iran, is one among several defense attorneys who have criticized the Iranian Judiciary’s list.
“In the past, political suspects had a limited right to defend themselves and lawyers could take up their cases and carry out their professional duties despite all the dangers they faced, but now even that limited right is being completely eliminated,” Sotoudeh told CHRI on June 4.
Iran’s Constitution sets no limits or conditions on the right to legal counsel and Article 35 states, “Both parties to a lawsuit have the right in all courts of law to select an attorney, and if they are unable to do so, arrangements must be made to provide them with legal counsel.” According to Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Procedures Regulations, people also have the right to ask for and have a meeting with a lawyer as soon as they are detained.
However, the “Note to Article 48” makes exceptions: “In cases of crimes against internal or external security…during the investigation phase, the parties to the dispute are to select their attorneys from a list approved by the head of the judiciary.”
Sotoudeh previously refused to appear in court after being summoned in November 2017.
“I have also used my [right of] freedom of expression to speak about my cases, within the boundaries of the law, on Facebook,” Sotoudeh told CHRI at the time. “But it really doesn’t matter what I am accused of. I know I will not be treated fairly by the judiciary.”
Another human rights attorney, Mohammad Najafi, is currently facing national security charges and could be jailed for years in Iran for telling media outlets that local police in the city of Arak were concealing the true cause of death in custody of his client, Vahid Heydari, who was arrested during Iran’s December 2017/January 2018 protests.
“Iran has a documented history of harassing and jailing lawyers who have taken on politically sensitive cases,” said Ghaemi.
Well-known human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani is currently serving a 13-year sentence in Evin Prison for the charges of “being awarded the  Nuremberg International Human Rights Award,” “interviewing with media about his clients’ cases,” and “co-founding the Defenders of Human Rights Center.”
Human rights attorney Hadi Esmailzadeh was imprisoned twice before he died from a heart attack in February 2016 after being sentenced to four years in prison in July 2014 by a Revolutionary Court for the charges of “propaganda against the state” and “membership in the Center for the Defenders of Human Rights.”
In 2010, Sotoudeh was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the charges of “acting against national security,” “collusion and propaganda against the regime,” and “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center.” An appeals court later reduced her sentence to six years in prison and she was granted early release in September 2013 after serving three years.
In August 2014, the Lawyers’ Court at the Tehran Bar Association overturned the ban on Sotoudeh’s legal practice that had been issued by the state punitively for her human rights work.