Jailed for defending women who opposed compulsory veiling, Nasrin Sotoudeh must be freed, say UN experts: Iran

OHCHR

UN human rights experts* today condemned the continued imprisonment of woman human rights defender and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and called for her immediate release.

“Nasrin Sotoudeh has been systematically criminalised for her work in defence of human rights, particularly the rights of women who oppose compulsory veiling laws,” Dubravka Simonovic, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, said.

Ms. Sotoudeh has been detained since June 2018, and was sentenced to a combined 38 years imprisonment on nine charges, including “encouraging corruption and prostitution”, in connection to her work defending women arrested for peacefully protesting compulsory veiling laws. Under Iranian law, she will need to serve 12 years in prison, the longest of her sentences.

“No one should be coerced to wear religious symbols that they consider not essential or even contrary to their religions or beliefs,” said the experts. “A woman’s or girl’s choice in manifesting or expressing her identity, including her religion or belief, is protected under freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression as provided by international human rights law.

“Despite our many calls over the years to release Ms. Sotoudeh, Iranian authorities have failed to do so, and instead they have transferred her to another prison, farther away from her family and under dire conditions,” the experts said.

Since October 2020, Ms. Sotoudeh has been detained in Qarchak prison, which is overcrowded and with serious sanitary and structural issues, connected to the fact that it was not originally built to be a detention facility. 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. Ms. Sotoudeh’s health has seriously deteriorated since her arrest and she was also tested positive for COVID-19 during her imprisonment. Despite Ms. Sotoudeh’s engagement with prison administrators to close the jail, no measures have been taken in response to her requests.

“Nasrin Sotoudeh’s case is sadly not isolated, and the severe sentences she has received appear to be intended to silence her work and to intimidate other human rights defenders, including her family,” the experts said.

Reza Khandan, Nasrin Sotoudeh’s husband, has also been targeted for challenging compulsory veiling laws. He has been sentenced to six years imprisonment 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 experts said. “Iran must put an end to the criminalisation of Nasrin Sotoudeh for her legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights.”

Ms. Sotoudeh, an internationally recognised human rights lawyer, had been arrested in connection with her work as a lawyer, from September 2010 to September 2013. Since her most recent arrest, UN experts have on numerous occasions raised with the authorities their serious concerns that her detention is arbitrary and called for her release. The Government responded to some of the interventions by the experts, but not all.

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