On 11 March, Iranian defence lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, known for representing women who have protested having to wear the headscarf, was sentenced, whilst in prison without going to court, to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. She was charged with several national security-related offences, all of which she denies. Nasrin, laureate of the Sakharov Prize in 2012, was convicted following a trial held in absentia which also featured a number of other violations of the right to due process.
A day after her sentence, the United Nations announced that Iran will get a seat on the UN women’s rights committee, which judges complaints alleging violations of women’s rights, a decision which is already receiving heavy criticism from human rights defenders.
“Nasrin Sotoudeh has dedicated her life to defending women’s rights and speaking out against the death penalty,” Philip Luther from Amnesty International told BBC. “It is utterly outrageous that Iran’s authorities are punishing her for her human rights work.”
Nasrin’s husband, Reza Khandan, wrote on Facebook on 11 March, that his wife had been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes (five years for one case and 33 years for a second case involving a combined total of nine charges). In January 2019, Khandan was also sentenced to six years in prison.
“Sotoudeh has been sentenced in a Kafkaesque trial severely lacking in international standards of due process,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “The Iranian Judiciary is punishing Sotoudeh for trying to uphold the rule of law and the right to a fair defense in cases involving defendants facing politically motivated charges,” he added.
The European Union condemned the sentence in a statement saying that they expect an immediate review of her sentence as well as the conviction of her husband Reza Khandan. The EU also said it expects Iran to ensure that both Khandan and Nasrin’s right to appeal their sentences is protected.
The United States, too, condemned the prison sentences “in the strongest possible terms.”
“We are outraged to hear reports that the Iranian regime sentenced…Sotoudeh to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said at a press briefing on March 12. “This sentence is beyond barbaric,” he added.
The UN investigator on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, raised Nasrin’s case at the UN human rights council in Geneva on Monday, saying that she “was reportedly convicted of charges relating to her work and could face a lengthy prison sentence”.
He added: “Worrying patterns of intimidation, arrest, prosecution and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, lawyers and labour rights activists signal an increasingly severe state response.”
An outspoken human rights advocate with several international accolades, Nasrin previously served three years in prison from 2010-2013 and was released after years of campaigning for her freedom by international human rights organizations. While in prison, the European Parliament gave her the Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought for her work representing opposition activists.
Nasrin was re-imprisoned in June 2018 after defending women who were arrested for protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law. Since December 2017, more than 35 female protesters have been arrested in the capital Tehran alone. The police have warned that women who participate in demonstrations against the hijab could face up to 10 years in prison.
Nasrin has also publicly criticised the judiciary’s decision to force detainees facing politically motivated charges to choose their counsel from a list of lawyers approved by the judiciary. She 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.
The International Observatory of Human Rights has campaigned extensively for Iran to improve its human rights record and a strong advocate for prisoners such as Nazanin Ratcliffe, Saeed Malekpour and Ahmadreza Djalali to be released.