Ms Sotoudeh is among at least seven human rights attorneys who were arrested in Iran in 2018. Iran is accused of making an example of her, as Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, says ‘first they went after the journalists, activists and dissidents. Now they’re going after their only line of defense.’
Tried in absentia
Ms Sotoudeh defended women being prosecuted for peacefully protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law by removing the head covering in public. She was tried in absentia in a Revolutionary Court in Tehran, having refused to appear in court after she was denied the right to choose her own lawyer. During her sentencing, Article 134 of Iran’s Penal Code was applied, which allows judges to use their discretion to impose a higher sentence than the maximum statutory requirement when a defendant faces more than three charges. In this case, judge Mohammad Moghiseh applied the maximum statutory sentence for each of her seven charges and then added another four years to her total prison term, raising it from the statutory maximum of 29 to 33 years. Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, said ‘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 defence of women protesting against Iran’s degrading forced hijab (veiling) laws. Nasrin Sotoudeh must be released immediately and unconditionally and this obscene sentence quashed without delay.’ Ms Sotoudeh, 55, was arrested last June at her home, and previously served in prison for her work from 2010 to 2013. She was awarded the 2012 European Parliament’s Sakharov prize for freedom of thought and, last year, the Ludovic Trarieux Human Rights Prize.
The precise length of the sentence is not fully clear. In a phone call from prison, she told her husband, Reza Khandan, she has not been informed in writing, but said the term was five years in one case and 33 in another case involving nine charges, although it could be reduced. The charges, according to her husband, include ‘assembly and collusion against national security, propaganda against the state, membership in various human rights groups, 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.’ However, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported that judge Mohammad Moghiseh told journalists that Ms Sotoudeh has been sentenced to seven years in prison: five years for ‘gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security’ and two years for ‘insulting the Supreme Leader.’ Mr Luther said, ‘Nasrin Sotoudeh has dedicated her life to defending women’s rights and speaking out against the death penalty, it is utterly outrageous that Iran’s authorities are punishing her for her human rights work. Her conviction and sentence consolidate Iran’s reputation as a cruel oppressor of women’s rights.’