On June 13, 2018, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent writer, human rights lawyer and activist, was abruptly re-arrested and taken to the Evin prison. She had already been arrested in 2010 and 2012 when she defended activists who took part in a national mass protest in 2009. This time her offense was defending numerous women who had removed their headscarves in public as a way to protest Iran’s restrictive dress code. Nasrin is internationally renowned for her human rights work and during her arrest in 2012 she was awarded the Sakharov Prize, the EU’s highest human rights award for her outstanding work in this area. She has also received the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write (2011), Southern Illinois University School of Law Rule of Law Citation (2011) and on 21 September 2018, she was also awarded the annual tribute for a lawyer, the 23rd Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize initially bestowed on Nelson Mandela in 1986 when in jail.
Her case has been a particularly sensitive one due to her reputation and for what it symbolizes. The judge in her case used his discretion to invoke Article 134 of Iran’s Penal Code, which allows for the most severe sentence possible on each charge if a defendant is found guilty of more than three offenses. The resulting sentence once Judge Mohammad Moghiseh had 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, was a total of 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. According to Amnesty International, who has observed cases of human rights defenders who have been sentenced to imprisonment over several years, Nasrin’s case is by far the harshest sentence ever dealt out by the Iranian authorities.
Defending human rights in Iran has become considered an act against national security and Nasrin was accused of ‘colluding against the system’ and for insulting the country’s supreme leader through her humanitarian rights efforts and openly critiquing Iran’s long-standing repressive views on matters such as the death penalty. The Sotoudeh case is part of a growing crackdown on activists across the region and only last year over 100 human right defenders, that we are aware of, were sentenced to jail and or death. The increasing harsh sentences on Iranian activists demonstrate a failing of the law system in the country and a highly politicized judiciary. Iran was one of the world’s top executioners in 2015 after putting 977 people to death, according to Amnesty International. Iran hanged 44 convicted drug traffickers in the span of just two days in 2009. This spelled one of the country’s biggest mass executions to date. In their practice of using execution as capital punishment, Iran has shown yet again their callous disregard for human rights.
Human rights activists have said that the international focus on Iran’s nuclear program has obstructed efforts to advance human rights reforms. Sanctions must remain in place to end Iran’s human rights violations and any call for appeasement in relation to Iran should be dismissed.