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News | Nasrin Sotoudeh: Hunger Strike, Finalist for Rights Prize with Jafar Panahi

by PAUL MUTTER

18 Oct 2012 10:02Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

SotoudehDesk.jpg[ in focus ] Persian Icons reports that lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has again gone on a hunger strike in Evin Prison to protest her treatment while incarcerated since September 2010 on charges of spreading "propaganda" and "not observing Islamic dress code"; her family says that the primary reasons for her 11-year sentence are her legal work and membership in the Center for the Defense of Human Rights and One Million Signatures groups. Once her prison sentence is complete, she faces additional 20-year bans on practicing law and traveling abroad.

Sotoudeh, 49, staged her first hunger strike in October 2010 when she was placed in solitary confinement while awaiting trial, and two more hunger strikes before the end of the year. Her current hunger strike was prompted by authorities' repeated obstruction and outright denials of her right to contact with family members, including her 12-year-old daughter, Mehraveh, and four-year-old son, Nima. Her husband, Reza Khandan, wrote on Facebook that "she has lost so much weight and is so weak that she is unrecognizable to those who have not seen her for a while."

For years, Sotoudeh represented human rights activists and journalists like Mohammad Sadegh Kabovand, Roya Toloui, Amir Yaghoub Ali, Isa Saharkhiz, and Nafiseh Azad. She has also been strongly critical of the regime's handling of criminal cases involving minors, such as Atefeh Sahaaleh Rajabi, a 16-year-old hanged in 2004 for "unlawful" sexual relations with a much older man (that she was a rape victim had no impact on her sentencing), and Sina Paymard, a teen drug addict convicted of killing his dealer.

She also represented a number of people arrested and put on trial following the 2009 election protests, stating that "as a member of Iran's legal community, I wish to express the deep concern of lawyers and public opinion about the show that began today under the name of a trial, whose aim is to curb the civil movement by intimidating people who have done a great service for this country over the years." One of her clients during this period was Arash Rahmanipour, who was executed on charges of organizing "rioting" and being a member of a banned royalist organization -- though she argued that he was actually arrested on the latter allegation months before the elections even took place.

Sotoudeh was barred from leaving the country in 2008, and then arrested herself in 2010 around the same time that a number of other lawyers who had taken activists as clients were detained. Her husband says that the authorities finally came for her when she made clear she would not drop her most famous client, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, who had just gone into exile. Sotoudeh has been kept almost wholly isolated from her family while in prison, but managed to smuggle a letter to them last year, telling her son, "I'm not the first person to receive such an unjust sentence but I hope I will be the last, though I think that is unlikely."

PanahiNotFilmGold2.jpg Sotoudeh, who was honored with the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 2011, is a finalist for this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which is awarded to human rights advocates by the European Parliament. Filmmaker Jafar Panahi, director of such celebrated motion pictures as The White Balloon, The Circle, Crimson Gold, and Offside (the last three all banned in Iran), is also a finalist for the prize. Panahi was arrested in 2010, convicted that December of "colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country's national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic," and given a six-year sentence, though as of this writing he has not yet been imprisoned to begin serving it. Much like Sotoudeh, however, he has also been barred for 20 years from leaving Iran and from giving interviews; perhaps most significantly, he has been prohibited from writing or directing any films for two decades, as well.

In effective defiance of that ban, Panahi collaborated with documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb last year to create the zero-budget This Is Not a Film (pictured at left), a recording of Panahi at home coping with his circumstances and pondering questions of creativity, while Nowruz celebrations take place beyond his walls. And even now, he is said to be clandestinely filming for a new project.

Like the Freedom of Thought prize's namesake, Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, Sotoudeh and Pahani have been kept from attending international gatherings to honor their work. And by either accident or design, the October 26 announcement of the winner will come the same day that a delegation of European parliamentarians visits Tehran to meet with legislator Kazem Jalali, head of the Majles Research Center and chief of the "Followers of Leadership" faction in parliament, where he also chairs the Iran-Europe Parliamentary Friendship Group. A number of European Union officials have strongly criticized the planned meeting.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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