The world desperately needs more people to stand up and fight for the rights of our fellow human beings. Those who already do should be celebrated and awarded, however, some are being punished for their work.
Over the years, a human rights attorney from Iran has dedicated her career to the important job of defending the rights of women in her country. In early 2019, however, an Iranian judge decided to give her an extreme punishment for her work…
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In the early weeks of June 2018, Iranian security agents burst into a home in Tehran, the capital of Iran, where 55-year-old Nasrin Sotoudeh lived with her husband, Reza Khandan, and their two children. Without any explanation, the security agents arrested Sotoudeh on the spot.
A Human Rights Attorney
Sotoudeh was taken off guard and hadn’t done anything to warrant the arrest. However, the 55-year-old mother wasn’t extremely surprised as she worked as a human rights lawyer in the country and had made a name for herself defending women’s rights in Iran.
A Recent Case
While the government refused to provide a reason for Sotoudeh’s arrest, she had been working on defending a number of women who had been arrested because they had removed their hijabs, or head scarves, in public as a form of protest of the punishable offense.
Defending Women’s Rights
Throughout her career, Sotoudeh had dedicated her life to defending women’s rights in her country and was also known for speaking out against the death penalty. Aside from supporting women who peacefully protested Iran’s compulsory hijab law, she also criticized Iranian judicial procedures.
Specifically, Sotoudeh publicly criticized the fact that defendants in security-related cases and political cases had limited access to lawyers as defendants were only permitted to choose their legal representation from a list of 20 state-approved lawyers.
It is believed that Sotoudeh’s public critique of Iranian judicial procedures and the fact that she regularly challenged laws that she felt hampered women’s rights possibly angered judicial authorities in Iran and that her arrest was in retribution for her life’s work.
A History Of Punishment
“Nasrin Sotoudeh has dedicated her life to defending women’s rights and speaking out against the death penalty,” Philip Luther from Amnesty International said in a statement. Sadly, this was not the first time the human rights lawyer had been punished for defending women in Iran.
The Previous Conviction
Sotoudeh has served several stints in prison for politically-motivated charges. Her most recent conviction was in 2010 after she was found guilty of charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm the state. Sotoudeh denied the charges but ended up being sentenced to six years in prison.
An Award Winning Political Prisoner
Sotoudeh ended up being released from prison in 2013 after she served half of her sentence. While she was in prison, however, Sotoudeh caught the attention of the European Parliament, who awarded her the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She had also been awarded the PEN America Freedom to Write Award while in prison.
The Newest Case
In the wake of her most recent arrest in 2018, seven charges were lodged against Sotoudeh. The charges included collusion against national security, anti-state propaganda, membership in illicit groups, and committing the sinful act of appearing before the judiciary without the required head covering.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t all Sotoudeh was being charged with by the government. In addition, she was also charged with disturbing the peace, publishing falsehoods to disturb public opinion, as well as a charge for encouraging corruption and prostitution.
A Potentially Lengthy Sentence
“Each charge has many years,” Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, which is based in New York, told the New York Times in response to learning the charges being used to justify Sotoudeh’s arrest. “It could be a very lengthy sentence.”
“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,” Ghaemi added about the disturbing and disappointing case.
In early March of 2019, Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, shared news on Facebook that his wife had been found guilty of the charges and had finally received a sentence after being detained at Evin Prison in Tehran for the past eight months. In total, Sotoudeh was sentenced to 38 years in prison and sentenced to 148 lashes.
The shocking sentencing comes after two unfair trials. The first trial, which ended in a five-year sentence, occurred without Sotoudeh being present because she refused to appear after she wasn’t allowed to choose her own representation. The second trial ended in Sotoudeh getting an additional sentence of 33 years in prison.
A Cruel Sentence
That second trial is particularly controversial because the maximum sentence was technically 29 years. However, Judge Mohammad Moghiseh added four more years to her prison term. “Jailing a human rights defender for her peaceful activities is abhorrent,” Amnesty International’s Philip Luther said.
“But the fact that the judge in Nasrin Sotoudeh’s case used his discretion to ensure that she stays locked up for more than is required under Iranian law compounds the outrageous injustice of her sentence,” Luther added. Luther and others have also demanded that politicians and governments around the world put pressure on Iran to release Sotoudeh.
Squashing The Opposition
The case also highlights a growing issue in Iran as the government has begun using more extreme methods to squash opposition. In the past year alone, six other human rights lawyers were arrested in Iran. “This verdict shows that making statements in our country comes with such a high price that an attorney can be sentenced to 44 years for it,” Khandan told the Center for Human Rights about his wife’s sentence.
Cruel And Unusual
“I say 44 years because in 2010 she was sentenced to six years in prison for similar charges. This sentence is unjust, illogical and unusual,” said Khandan, who has also been sentenced to six years in prison for sharing news of his wife’s trial on social media. However, Khandan has still not been arrested.
A Bad Reputation
“It is absolutely shocking that Nasrin Sotoudeh is facing nearly four decades in jail and 148 lashes for her peaceful human rights work, including her defense of women protesting against Iran’s degrading forced hijab (veiling) laws,” Luther said. ”Her conviction and sentence consolidate Iran’s reputation as a cruel oppressor of women’s rights.”