Iran has recently received a lot of attention in regards to the possibility that they are building a nuclear weapon, increasing tensions with Israel. Another important issue involving Iran has been receiving less attention from mass media.
Nasarin Sotoudeh, a member of the Defenders of Human Rights, the One Million Signatures Campaign to Change Discriminatory Laws Against Women, and the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child, is an important figure for the rights of women and children both in Iran and throughout the Middle East. For years she worked as a lawyer and an activist, advocating for civil and human rights, and protecting activists and juvenile who risked being sentenced to death. She is the recipient of numerous international awards for both her work and her writing including the 2011 American PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, the 2008 Human Rights prize by the International Committee on Human Rights, and most recently the 2012 PEN Canada’s Empty Chair ward for the 32nd International Festival of Authors. She will also soon be receiving the PEN Canada’s One Humanity Award.
Unfortunately Nasarin’s good work was seen as a threat to her country instead of being award worthy. She was arrested on September 4, 2010 and charged with of “acting against the national security” and “propaganda against the regime” . She had not actually committed any crime but was view as a traitor because of her defense of human rights activists that were arrested and abused following the June 2009 Presidential election. She was originally sentenced to 11 years in prison and banned from practicing law and leaving the country for 20 years. Her sentence was reduced to sentenced to six years in prison and banned from practicing law for ten years, but conditions for Sotoudeh and her family have not improved.
Sotoudeh has spent much of her prison time in solitary confinement or on hunger strikes. Her most recent hunger strike was in response to harassment of her family and a travel ban placed on her husband and her twelve year old daughter in an attempt to end their campaign to free her. In addition to the harassment, Nasarin was denied visitation because of her refusal to wear a full coverage garment known as a chador. In a letter to her children, she wrote that she did not refuse to wear the garment out of resistance, but in order to exercise her rights under the law. A month ago, the requirement for prisoners to wear the chador was thrown out last month, but just last week Sotoudeh’s family was denied a visit with her.
When Nasarin Sotoudeh was born in 1963, Iran was a completely different country. The Shah, who was in power at the time had launched the “White Revolution” in order to westernize the country. Women were encouraged to wear western clothing and had the same social rights as men. After the Ayatollah Khomeini took over, everything changed. Laws became aligned with Shari’a Law (Muslim Religious Laws) and human rights, especially those of children spiraled so out of control that results could not even be justified by religion.
Shirin Ebadi, a client of Sotoudeh and a fellow lawyer and activist, knows the negative effects of these changes all too well. The first Iranian woman to ever serve as a judge, the Iranian Revolution stripped her of her duties because she was a woman and demoted her the position of a secretary. She and her husband were persecuted by her government for speaking out against human rights offenses, especially against children, and for representing women and minority groups. Nasarin Sotoudeh’s arrest is believed to be related to representing Ebadi.
Iran has been accused by the UN for abusing human rights based on the treatment of activists who are “subjected to mock executions, rape, sleep deprivation, and threats to their families.” While these allegations are bitterly denied by the parliament, there is no denying the poor state of human rights in the country. Some of Sotoudeh’s most prominent cases involve juveniles. These cases are a big deal because Iran is known to practice executions on child offenders. Even now that Iran has agreed to hold of on the execution until the child is 18, the death sentence is still given to minors who will be put to death on their eighteenth birthdays. Sotoudeh’s colleague, Houtan Kian, was also prosecuted after representing Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was sentenced to death by stoning after allegedly having an affair with her husband’s killer. Sotoudeh’s own lawyer was arrested for representing her and sentenced to 11 years.
The way that Iran is treating its people is wrong and everyone who speaks out against human rights offenses it persecuted as a traitor. While Nasarin Sotoudeh is only one person and only one of the many activists suffering at the hands of her government, I believe that change can start with her. There has been an international outcry for her release and for the safe removal of her and her family. Amnesty International is collecting signatures in order to gain support and put pressure on Iran. I urge everyone to sign the petition. The link is at the bottom of this posting. I stand with the Uprising of Women in the Arab World and the movement stands with Nasarin Sotoudeh. Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and given the basic human rights that many of us take for granted every day.