Portrait of Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran: Activism With A Defiant Smile

July 8, 2015

Nasrin makes a brief appearance in Jafar Panahi’s recent film “Taxi,  which was awarded the Golden Bear for best film at the Berlin international film festival 2015.

On 8 July FIDH published an update on the situation of Iranian human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh:With A Defiant Smile – A Portrait of Nasrin Sotoudeh“. For more posts on her see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/nasrin-sotoudeh/

Nasrin Sotoudeh is among the most prominent human rights lawyers in Iran (recipient of the 2012 Sakharov Prize, which she shared with the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, and the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award). Known for her work in defending women’s rights activists, minors on death row, journalists, Kurdish rights activists and other human rights lawyers, including the Nobel prize winner Shirin Ebadi, she is a national hero to many Iranians.

In January 2011, she was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of “propaganda against the system,” and “acting against national security“. Following persistent calls for her release from the UN, governments, and NGOs her sentence was reduced to six years, to be spent in the notorious Evin prison.

In 2013, after three years in prison, Sotoudeh was unexpectedly released, without explanation from the authorities. During her incarceration, she spent time in solitary confinement and went on several hunger strikes in protest of the inhumane prison conditions and the 2012 travel ban imposed on her husband and young daughter. One of the hunger strikes lasted 49 days and resulted in her losing 95 pounds. Upon her release, despite her weakened physical state, Sotoudeh got right back to work fighting for the respect for human rights in Iran.

Since then she has reactivated the Professional Women Lawyers Association and the Children’s Rights Committee, both of which she had helped found before her imprisonment. However, she has been spending much of her energy on a new campaign to abolish the death penalty in Iran, called Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty (LEGAM). The initiative focuses on amending Iranian legislation to gradually reduce and eventually abolish the use of the death penalty.

Until recently, her ability to push for legislative reforms remained greatly limited due to the Iran Bar Association’s October 2014 decision (under pressure from the Judiciary) to suspend her license to practice law for a period of three years. In protest, Sotoudeh staged daily sit-ins in front of the Bar Association’s offices in Tehran. Her perseverance and that of her supporters finally paid off when, on 23 June 2015, Sotoudeh was informed that the Bar Association had revised the ban and reduced it to a period of nine months [Sotoudeh declared that she would be applying to renew her license].

When asked how she became a human rights defender, Sotoudeh says that as a lawyer, she was forced to make a choice: “When a lawyer witnesses unfair trials, when a lawyer witnesses the execution of minors, either they must turn their back or they must face up to the problem they are witnessing. I think I entered the field of human rights on the day I decided not to avoid such issues.

Sotoudeh seeks to change Iran from the inside, by arguing cases and convincing others that protecting human rights is necessary. As she said recently regarding the conflict with the Iran Bar Association: “The channel for negotiations should never be closed. However, there are prerequisites for negotiations. If they are fulfilled, we should welcome such negotiations. If not, we should not insist only on negotiations. We should use civil action to persuade the other party to engage in negotiations.

In the brief appearance in Jafar Panahi’s recent film “Taxi,” (see above) Sotoudeh explains the trials and tribulations human rights defenders face in Iran all the time with a smile on her face, but a defiant smile!

With A Defiant Smile – A Portrait of Nasrin Sotoudeh.

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