Iranian Human Rights Lawyer Sentenced To Seven Years’ Prison

Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been sentenced by Iran’s highest court to seven years in prison following a trial for security charges. Judge Mohammad Moghiseh of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court confirmed this through a statement to local media on Monday. He said that Sotoudeh had been sentenced to five years for ‘colluding against the system’ and two years for ‘insulting the leader’, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Following this statement, Sotoudeh’s husband wrote in a Facebook post that she had been sentenced to 38 years imprisonment and 148 lashes. The charges which she faced to be given this sentence were not confirmed. Reuters reported that no Iranian judicial officials were available to comment on the claims raised in the Facebook post.

One of Sotoudeh’s lawyers, Mahmud Behzadi-Rad said that the verdict had been handed down in absentia. He added that even by late Sunday evening his client had not been informed of the verdict.

Monday’s verdict is a new development in the troubled relationship between Nasrin Sotoudeh and the Iranian regime. Over the past decade, Sotoudeh has gained a reputation as a candid critic of the Iranian government. Prior to her arrest in June 2018 and detention in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, the 55-year-old human rights lawyer had taken on the cases of multiple women who to protest Iran’s mandatory dress code refused to wear a hijab in public. Sotoudeh has spoken out herself against the Iranian dress code, violence against women the country, and has publicly opposed the death penalty.

In 2010, Sotoudeh was imprisoned for three years for defending dissidents who staged mass protests after the contentious re-election of the conservative President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. In prison she went on hunger strikes to protest the travel restrictions placed on her family.

Amnesty International has previously denounced the treatment of Sotoudeh as ‘grossly unfair’ and questioned the legitimacy of the legal process used. In March 2019, the Center for Human Rights in Iran issued a statement denouncing the court system which convicted Sotoudeh as ‘lacking in international standards of due process’.

The verdict handed down by Iran’s courts comes only days after the appointment of the conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi as the new head of the Iranian judiciary. In 1988, Raisi was one of four sharia judges responsible for sanctioning the mass execution of political dissidents in Iran.

The continued human rights work of Nasrin Sotoudeh shows that concerns for human rights are still prominent in Iran. Her decision to represent women who choose to not wear a hijab shows that currents of protest are alive in the ultra-conservative country. The fact that such issues receive a prison sentence in the name of ‘security’, however, shows how polarised the country remains. Dissent may not have been eradicated in Iran, but the latest verdict handed down for Sotoudeh proves that it remains far from tolerated.