Nasrin Sotoudeh, lawyer and human rights activist condemned to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes, has always amazed me with her strength. Her punishment is shocking, an incredible and indecent cruelty for a country with a thousand-year-old history like Iran. Whipping a woman isn’t a signal of the strength of a state but of its weakness.
Nasrin Sotoudeh has been locked up since June in the terrible Evin penitentiary, the “black hole” where many political prisoners end up for protesting against the Iranian regime in favor of reforms and for a more democratic country. It isn’t the first time that Nasrin has ended up in prison; it also happened in 2010 after the violent repression carried out by Ahmadinejad following the elections that determined the success of the reformists. That “green wave” of young people that had peacefully inundated the streets of Tehran was met with blows from billy clubs and the arrests en masse of intellectuals. Nasrin was accused of propaganda and conspiracy to damage the security of the state and was condemned to six years of confinement in addition to being banned from working in her field for 20 years.
That time the European Parliament that awarded her the Sakarov Prize in 2012 was also instrumental in securing her release after she had served three years behind bars. I’m hoping that Europe will make its voice heard once again by the Iranian authorities and secure the freedom of a woman who affirms the same values that make our continent great and who is a mother of two sons and wife to Reza Khandan, a man who fully supports and shares her battles. Her family is marked by the suffering the Iranian regime has imposed on Nasrin and her loved ones, but they are determined to defend the values they believe in—as demonstrated by Khandan’s posts on Facebook, where he also announced that the absurd conviction includes whipping.
I met Nasrin Sotoudeh years ago. I was in Tehran to follow the Iranian Parliamentary elections and I asked to meet her for an interview. I needed first-hand evidence of the human rights situation in Iran; she was the right person because she was defending many activists that had ended up behind bars. I arrived at her office and found it full of journalists of different nationalities. A petite woman, head covered in a white veil and pregnant with her second son, she received each and every journalist, giving interviews for hours on end without stopping, aware that it was the only way to reach global public opinion and to denounce Iran’s serious human rights violations.
She told me about the minors on death row, the political prisoners rotting in Evin prison, how the death sentences had increased under Ahmadinejad, and how the measures of control for journalists and activists had become more oppresive. She showed me the power of the “One Million Signatures” campaign, a collection of signatures in favor of equal rights for Iranian women. It is also supported by the Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, Nasrin Sotoudeh’s friend who has lived abroad for some time now, far from her native country. It was a long interview, the kind disliked by the Iranian regime—and Nasrin had given several such interviews. Before undertaking a career as a lawyer, Nasrin had also been a journalist and had worked for a journal focusing on human rights.
Her office has always remained accessible to envoys from all over the world. The Iranian authorities have punished her for maintaining these continuous contacts with international media.
Amnesty International is asking us to keep the focus on this tragic event.
There is a petition that you can sign on Amnesty.it, there are hastags #freeNasrin that you can post on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Both Europe and the United States need to make a concerted effort to pressure Iran once again, as they did in the past, to grant Nasrin Sotoudeh her freedom. In the upcoming days the CSW63 Conference on Women’s Global Issues is taking place at the UN. This is the right place to put pressure on the Iranian delegates to free Nasrin.
Translated by Emma Bass