Unjustified sentencing of Nasrin Sotoudeh, seeking immediate release

Re: Unjustified sentencing of Nasrin Sotoudeh, seeking immediate release

To: His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei

From: Tina Parbhakar, LRWC Iran Monitor

Date: 2011-01-11

LRWC, alongside many other observers, is shocked and disturbed by the continued systematic assault on human rights lawyers. We have received information that Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh, who and has been held in prison illegally for over 100 days, was given an 11 year prison sentence on January 9, 2011. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Parliament news website confirmed this sentence on January 10, 2011.

Ms. Sotoudeh is a prominent and long-standing human rights lawyer and activist in Iran who has represented many of those individuals who were arrested and charged subsequent to the June 2009 presidential elections, including Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi. She was unlawfully arrested and detained on September 4, 2009. It is reported that this occurred a few days after the unlawful search of her home and office.

Ms. Sotoudeh has been denied customary bail, detained for long periods in solitary confinement, denied contact with her family and denied contact with her lawyer. It is further reported that she has been tortured in order to obtain a forced confession. As a result, the 47 year old Ms. Sotoudeh has conducted three hunger strikes to protest her prison conditions and the violations of due process, which have further deteriorated her physical condition while she has been held arbitrarily in Evin prison.

It is our understanding that Judge Pir-Abbasi of the 26th Branch of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court presided and served this sentence to one of Ms. Sotoudeh’s lawyers after two trial sessions. According to this ruling, Ms. Sotoudeh has been arrested and tried on charges of “acting against national security”, “collusion and assembly against the regime,” “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Centre,” and “failing to wear an Islamic headscarf.” Ms. Sotoudeh was specifically sentenced to a 1 year prison term for “propaganda against the regime”; a 5 year prison term for “acting against national security,” a 5 year prison term for not wearing a hijab during a videotaped message and as well as a 20 year ban on practicing law and leaving the Islamic Republic of Iran after her release. Most of the discussion in the Court was regarding the frequency of interviews and statements Ms. Sotoudeh had given the media, but did not actually address the content of her speech or address how she was culpable according to legal tests. Thus, this decision appears to be a highly arbitrary and political.

We note that Mr. Pir-Abbasi, alongside Abolghasem Salavati and Mohammad Moghiseh, are three judges within the Revolutionary Courts, whose mandate is to deal with threats to the Islamic regime and the constitutional order, stand out for their role in presiding over hundreds of joint and individual trials where sentences do not correspond with the crime allegedly committed and where they ignore the defence case and approve indictments that have no legal basis. We, alongside many Iranian lawyers who must remain anonymous, question their legal backgrounds and strongly urge you to provide the proof thereof. It should be clear that the appointment of such judges puts into severe question the legitimacy of the Islamic regime and its judicial system.

For example, Ms. Sotoudeh was never a member of Defenders of Human Rights Centre, although she was invited on occasion to provide lectures on the rights of women and children. Why membership in this organization is a crime aside, there was not sufficient evidence to justify a five year portion of the jail sentence. Also, it is clear that depriving an individual of the ability to exit the country and practice their profession is not provided for by Iranian law and is a bizarre and extreme punishment.

LRWC continues to monitor the status of specific human rights defenders, including Ms. Sotoudeh’s lawyer, Nasim Ghanavi. Your government’s long-term interference with citizens such as Ms. Sotoudeh, are contrary to both international and Iranian law. In particular, I note the cases of Mr. Mohammad Seifzadeh, another prominent lawyer connected with Ms. Shirin Ebadi, who was sentenced in October 2010 to 9 years in prison and a 10 year ban on practicing law after his release and Mr. Jafar Panahi, an influential film-maker, who was sentenced in December 2010 to 6 years in prison and a 20 year ban on making or directing any movies after his release. The treatment of Ms. Sotoudeh and others is in clear contravention of Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Section 1, which states,

“Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”
Meanwhile, the applicable portions of the Iranian Constitution are the following:
Article 22, which states,
“The dignity, life, property, rights, residence, and occupation of the individual are inviolate, except in cases sanctioned by law.”
Article 32, which states,
“No one may be arrested except by the order and in accordance with the procedure laid down by law. In case of arrest, charges with the reasons for accusation must, without delay, be communicated and explained to the accused in writing, and a provisional dossier must be forwarded to the competent judicial authorities…The violation of this article will be liable to punishment in accordance with the law.”

Also, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly has provisions that apply as follows:
Article 1, which states,
“Everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”
Article 5(c), which states,
“Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels, […] to communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations”
Article 12.2 which states,
“the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) demands that the arbitrary arrests, prosecutions and sentencings come to a close. We urge you to provide a response.

Write to LRWC by mail, e-mail or fax to advise us of your actions to do the following:

  • Guarantee Ms. Sotoudeh’s physical and psychological integrity including an end to solitary confinement and transfer to the General Ward, an end to any torture, access to a lawyer, adequate and safe living conditions and treatment;
  • Provide for Ms. Sotoudeh’s immediate and unconditional release; and,
  • Put an end to acts of persistent harassment, particularly judicial and prosecutorial harassment, against Ms. Sotoudeh and all human rights defenders in Iran.