11 Jan 2011

Iran: fears for health of jailed human rights lawyer

Nobel peace laureate Dr Shirin Ebadi tells Channel 4 News she has concerns about the health of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who was jailed in a climate where “laws determine arrest and trial”.

Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rigths lawyer who has been jailed in Iran

Nasrin Sotoudeh has been imprisoned for 11 years for actions deemed “detrimental to national security” in Iran.

Her sentence has been condemned by both British and Iranian human rights activists.

She worked to defend people accused of political crimes and was arrested in September and charged with undermining national security.

Part of Nasrin Sotoudeh’s sentence was for being a member of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, a banned association founded by Nobel laureate Dr Shirin Ebadi.

“Mrs Sotoudeh has been on hunger strike three times in protest at her illegal detention.” Dr Shirin Ebadi

Dr Ebadi told Channel 4 News she was worried about Nasrin Sotoudeh’s health: “Mrs Sotoudeh has been on hunger strike three times in protest at her illegal detention.

“Each time, her condition deteriorated to such an extent that she was admitted to hospital and had to break her strike.

“As remarked by her husband, Nasrin Sotoudeh who weighed 57 kilos before her arrest now weighs only 44 kilos.”

Severe punishment

Dr Ebadi said the jail sentence had been much more severe than she had expected.

She accused the authorities of increasing the term because Mrs Sotoudeh refused to agree to their demands.

“In the early days of her arrest, the Intelligence Ministry official responsible for interrogating Mrs Sotoudeh advised her to appear on state television, confess to the crimes alleged by the prosecutor and appeal for a pardon.

“Since Mrs Sotoudeh refused to do so, the interrogator told her that he would make sure she is kept in prison for over 10 years.

“At present, engaging in any human rights legal work is extremely risky.” Dr Ebadi

Sadly, the court’s decision turned out to be what the intelligence official had told her in the early days of her arrest. This serves to demonstrate that the Judiciary in Iran has lost its independence.”

Human rights work in Iran

This case has fuelled concern for human right activists working in Iran.

Dr Ebadi told Channel 4 News she thought the punishment was handed out to deter others from carrying out similar work.

“At present, engaging in any human rights legal work is extremely risky.

“Nevertheless, it does not deter my colleagues from continuing with their human rights work.

“I should also mention that, in addition to the unjust sentence handed down to Mrs Sotoudeh, the court has also summoned both her husband and her lawyer as defendants.

“Through such harsh actions, the court wishes to, in effect, teach a lesson to all human rights defendants, thus deterring them from continuing with their legal work.”

Dr Ebadi said she, and her colleagues, abide by the laws of Iran although they do not agree with them.

She argued that the authorities were in fact breaking the country’s laws: “The Islamic Republic of Iran has endorsed laws which determine the manner of arrest and trial.

“Yet the country’s security and judicial officials disregard the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran, hence the majority of arrests, including that of Mrs Sotoudeh, have been carried out against the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”