Iran Urged To Free Rights Lawyer Sotoudeh Arrested Three Years Ago

Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

UN human rights experts have condemned the continued imprisonment of Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, whose health has “seriously deteriorated” since her arrest three years ago.

Iranian authorities have failed to release Sotoudeh despite “many calls” to do so, and instead last year transferred the lawyer to another prison, “farther away from her family and under dire conditions,” the experts said in a statement on June 21.

Sotoudeh was arrested June 2018 after representing opposition activists including women prosecuted for removing their mandatory headscarves.

She was later sentenced to a combined 38 1/2 years imprisonment and 148 lashes on charges including spying, spreading propaganda, and insulting Iran's supreme leader. Under Iranian law, she will need to serve 12 years in prison, the longest of her sentences.

The activist found herself back in prison in December 2020, less than a month after she was granted a temporary release.

Sotoudeh is being held in the Gharchak women's prison in Tehran, which is “overcrowded” and has “serious” sanitary issues, according to the UN experts.

"There is a recurrent lack of access to health care for inmates, and there is insufficient and/or non-nutritional food which also leads to health issues.”

Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, said in November she had contracted COVID-19 while in the prison, where he said conditions were particularly “catastrophic.”

Khandan has also been targeted for challenging compulsory veiling laws, having received a six-year prison sentence in a ruling that can be enforced at any time.

“We repeat our call to the authorities to release Nasrin Sotoudeh as a matter of urgency, review her case, and quash her convictions, as well as her husband’s,” the UN experts said.

“Iran must put an end to the criminalization of Nasrin Sotoudeh for her legitimate and peaceful work in defense of human rights.”

The experts insisted that “no one should be coerced to wear religious symbols that they consider not essential or even contrary to their religions or beliefs.”

Dubravka Simonovic, UN special rapporteur on violence against women; Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran; and Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, were among the experts.