Nasrin Sotoudeh, Attorney Who Defended Hijab Protesters, Convicted of “National Security” Crimes
Prominent Human Rights Defender Was Facing Decades in Prison, Sentence Unclear
March 5, 2019 – The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) forcefully condemns the conviction of prominent Iranian defense attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh in a court process sorely lacking in international standards of due process.
“No amount of spin will be able to conceal the fact that Sotoudeh is being persecuted for her peaceful defense of human rights in Iran, including a woman’s right to choose whether to wear a hijab,” said CHRI’s Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.
“The international community should band together to forcefully condemn the abhorrent treatment of this courageous defense lawyer and demand her release,” he added.
One of Iran’s most outspoken human rights defenders, Sotoudeh has been jailed since June 2018 when she was detained in part for representing women in a court of law who had been arrested for peacefully protesting the state’s compulsory hijab law.
She was convicted on the basis of several charges but has not received the verdict or her sentence in writing, her husband Reza Khandan told CHRI on March 5, 2019.
Khandan was sentenced to six years in prison in January 2019 in part for posting updates about his wife’s case on Facebook. It remains to be seen what will happen to their two children if both their parents are imprisoned at the same time.
Sotoudeh was tried in absentia in Tehran on December 30, 2018, at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court presided by hardline Judge Mohammad Moghiseh. She refused to appear in court because she was denied the right to choose her own lawyer and wanted to protest the unjust judicial process, according to Khandan.
It is not clear which charges Sotoudeh was convicted of but the charges she was facing could result in decades of imprisonment: “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center, the Legam group [against capital punishment], and the National Peace Council,” “encouraging corruption and prostitution,” “appearing at the judiciary without Islamic hijab,” “disturbing public peace and order” and “publishing falsehoods with the intent to disturb public opinion.”
Sotoudeh, 55, has been detained since June 13, 2018, after security agents unexpectedly appeared at her home and took her to Evin Prison in Tehran. Once inside the prison, Sotoudeh was told she would be serving a five-year prison sentence issued to her in absentia by Judge Moghiseh in 2015 and that she was facing multiple other charges.
In addition to defending women who were arrested for protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law, Sotoudeh has also publicly criticized the judiciary’s decision to force detainees facing politically motivated charges to choose their counsel from a list of lawyers approved by the judiciary.
From 2010-13, Sotoudeh served three years in Evin Prison for taking on politically sensitive cases in Iran as a defense attorney.
In July 2018, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) sent a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calling for Sotoudeh’s immediate release.
Sotoudeh is among at least seven human rights attorneys who were arrested in Iran in 2018 in a widening crackdown aimed at further restricting detainees’ right to counsel.
In September 2018, she was awarded the prestigious Ludovic Trarieux Human Rights Prize for her commitment to human rights and the independence of the legal profession. Sotoudeh was also awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2012.
In November 2018, the UN reiterated its “concern at the in-absentia conviction and subsequent imprisonment” of Sotoudeh and called on Iran to guarantee her right to a fair trial along with her husband and fellow women’s rights activist Farhad Meysami, as well as ensure that they are not “deprived arbitrarily of their liberty.”
Adding its voice to an increasingly international call, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a motion in December 2018 urging the Iranian authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release” Sotoudeh.
“From the beginning, Sotoudeh was forced to navigate a Kafkaesque legal system in which she was denied the right to choose her own lawyer and tried in absentia,” said Ghaemi.
“The Iranian judiciary prosecuted Sotoudeh under national security charges to send a clear message that it will not tolerate the peaceful defense of human rights by activists or their lawyers,” he added. “We should all speak out against this travesty of justice.”