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Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh speaks on the phone alongside her husband, Reza Khandan, at their house in Tehran in 2013.
Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent and widely respected human rights lawyer in Iran, has turned a deaf ear to a telephone call in which she was ordered to appear at the Intelligence Ministry on short notice.

There has been no public reaction from Iranian authorities.

Sotoudeh was summoned to Iran's Intelligence Ministry on March 30, according to an account by her husband that was posted on his Facebook page, which Reza Khandan has used to keep his wife's supporters informed about her situation.

Khandan wrote that the summons was delivered during a trip to the province of Khuzestan.

"A few minutes ago, we were shopping in the bazaar of the city of Dezful when the Intelligence Ministry called and summoned Nasrin and our host in an illegal and impolite manner," Khandan wrote on Facebook on March 30. "They were told to present themselves to the Intelligence Ministry within an hour."

A few hours later, he wrote that because the summoning -- from the Dezful office of the Intelligence Ministry -- was done "illegally," via telephone, she decided to ignore it.

Instead, he said, the couple went horseback riding. He later posted a picture of himself and his wife on horseback.


In an interview with RFE/RL, Khandan explained more fully why Sotoudeh decided to ignore the call: "Lawyers have always said that summoning via telephone is illegal and no one should abide by those calls," Khandan said. "Summoning may only take place through the judiciary; it should be done via an official written summons."

The reason for the summons is not clear. It followed by just a few days the posting of a speech by Sotoudeh in which she referred to the Islamic republic as a "big prison" and which was shared on social media and news sites.

In the speech, Sotoudeh criticized the house arrest of Iranian opposition figures. "We seem to be free. But our heart is always, always divided between two groups -- those who are under arrest in their owns homes, [Zahra] Rahnavard, [Mir Hossein] Musavi, and [Mehdi] Karrubi, they are prisoners of conscience...[and] those who are serving their terms in prisons in different cities of Iran," she told a cultural gathering.

Sotoudeh is one of a small number of human rights lawyers who take on sensitive political cases in Iranian courts.

In her speech, Sotoudeh mentioned two colleagues -- Abdol Fatah Soltani and Mohammad Seifzadeh -- who have ended up in jail over their defense of political activists and students.

It is unclear when Sotoudeh made the speech. A video of her comments was posted online on March 28.

Sotoudeh was among a dozen political prisoners freed in September ahead of a trip by Iranian President Hassan Rohani to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly. She was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2010 after her conviction on a number of charges, including acting against national security. An appeals court later reduced her sentence to six years.

Her defense of activists, opposition members, and juvenile offenders on death row and her outspokenness are thought to be the reason for the state pressure she has been facing.

While in prison, she refused to be silenced. She reportedly launched several hunger strikes to protest her condition and alleged state harassment of her family.

Sotoudeh and dissident Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi were awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought in 2012.

To many Iranians, Sotoudeh, a mother of two, has become a symbol of resistance against repression in their country.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari with contributions by Radio Farda correspondent Hossein Ghavimi
Catherine Ashton (L), the European Union's top foreign policy diplomat, at a meeting with Narges Mohammadi (right), an Iranian human rights activist and mother of Sattar Beheshti, who died in Iranian custody.
WASHINGTON -- On her recent two-day trip to Iran, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with human rights defenders, including the mother of a blogger who died in prison in 2012.

The meeting has infuriated Iranian hard-liners, who harshly criticized Ashton.

Media outlets close to the government reported that a protest by "students" would be held on March 12 in front of the Austrian Embassy in Tehran, where Ashton’s meeting with the activists took place.

Among those protesting Ashton’s action are lawmakers, at least one senior military commander, and conservative media close to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

They say the meeting between Ashton and a number of "seditionists" was clear interference in Iran's internal affairs. Sedition is a term used in Iran to describe the actions of demonstrators at antigovernment protests in 2009 that shook the Islamic establishment.

"The parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee strongly calls on the government to prevent these intolerable and interventionist actions by foreign delegations that travel to our country," said a statement signed by lawmakers on March 11.

Iran's Foreign Ministry has said it sent an "official caution" to the Austrian Embassy for arranging the meeting.

The Fars news agency, which is close to the IRGC, said Ashton's "suspicious" meeting with women's rights activists made it clear that the main purpose of her trip to Iran was to launch "human rights interference" in the Islamic republic.

Brigadier-General Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy joint chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, said Ashton’s meeting was a violation of diplomatic principles and a prelude to more "interference."

Jazayeri said such meetings should be prevented while adding that "Ashton should instead think of resolving women's rights issues in Europe."

The hard-line daily "Javan" was also critical of the meeting. But it went even one step further than other media outlets.

The daily removed Gohar Eshghi, the mother of blogger and Facebook activist Sattar Beheshti , from a picture where she was seen with Ashton and well-known rights defender Narguess Mohammadi, who served time in prison on charges of acting against national security.

The original picture with Eshghi had been widely shared on social media and Iranian newssites outside the country before it was altered by "Javan."

Beheshti died in prison after being arrested by Iran's Cyber Police. He was allegedly beaten during his interrogations.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) reported that a Tehran court ruled last year that Beheshti's death was a "quasi-murder."

His death in custody was embarrassing to Iran's leaders and his mother became a thorn in their side due to her repeated protests against the court ruling and the death of her son in custody.

Ashton met with the activists shortly after arriving in the Iranian capital on March 8, which was International Women's Day.

"Not surprisingly, there was a big focus on human rights," Ashton said the following day. "I met with women activists on International Women's Day and talked to them about the situation that women [in Iran] find themselves in."

Ashton had traveled to Iran to discuss the country's controversial nuclear program, the interim deal reached in November between Tehran and six world powers to curb that program, and ties between Iran and the EU.

ICHRI spokesman Hadi Ghaemi says hard-liners in Iran are angry that Ashton included human rights on her agenda while visiting Tehran.

"Hard-liners in Iran are under the illusion that the government of [President Hassan] Rohani should only pursue nuclear negotiations with the West without paying any attention to international human rights concerns," Ghaemi says. "But given the serious state of human rights in Iran, Western countries should not ignore violations and Ashton's visit demonstrated that Europe wants to have these issues on the table."

A meeting in December between members of a European parliamentary delegation and two prominent dissidents in Tehran was also sharply criticized by hard-liners.

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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