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In Focus | Nasrin Sotoudeh Ends Hunger Strike after Daughter's Travel Ban Lifted

by DAN GEIST

05 Dec 2012 13:36Comments

Human rights champion halts perilous seven-week protest after primary demand is met.

NasrinSotoudehBW2.jpgSotoudehsFamily.jpg[ in focus ] Jailed human rights lawyer and journalist Nasrin Sotoudeh ended a hunger strike of 49 days after Iranian authorities acceded to her demand that they no longer bar her 12-year-old daughter, Mehraveh, from traveling abroad. Sotoudeh is incarcerated in Tehran's Evin Prison, along with many other political prisoners; she has served 27 months of a six-year sentence on charges of disseminating "propaganda," violating mandatory hejab, and "acting against national security." Her blood pressure had reportedly fallen dangerously low toward the end of her hunger strike, in which she consumed only salted and sugared water.

According to the Kaleme website -- associated with Green Movement leader and former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under extralegal house arrest since February 2011 -- the authorities' concession came after Sotoudeh's husband, Reza Khandan, and a number of women's rights activists met with a group of Majles deputies who were about to undertake an investigation into the circumstances surrounding her detention. The legislators subsequently pursued the issue with Speaker Ali Larijani and his brother, judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani. On Tuesday evening, Khandan reported on his Facebook page that his wife had ended her hunger strike and that he had just returned from an "extraordinary meeting" with her.

Sotoudeh was protesting not only the travel ban placed on her daughter, but also repeated interference with her own family visitation and telephone call rights. In addition to Mehraveh, Sotoudeh and Khandan have a four-year-old son, Nima. This was the fourth hunger strike she has undertaken since she was imprisoned in September 2010. After her release, she will face decade-long bans on performing legal work and traveling outside the country.

Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, noted in his latest report -- presented to U.N. officials in September and publicly released the following month -- the many accounts that Iranian

human rights defenders in general are subjected to unfair trials and issued severe sentences, including flogging, long-term activity and travel bans, long-term exile, and prison terms ranging from six months to 20 years. Interviewees also reported the arrest, detention and interrogation of family members and friends, and maintained that family and friends were threatened, insulted and tortured for the purpose of placing pressure on detainees, or to discourage them from public discussions about the situation of their loved ones.

Reacting to news of the end of Sotoudeh's hunger strike, Peter Godwin, president of PEN American Center, which awarded her the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award last year, declared,

Nasrin Sotoudeh embodies the bravery of the Iranian people's struggle for the rule of law and a vibrant civil society. That she was imprisoned at all is appalling. That she was forced to risk her own health to end the vindictive persecution of family members has shocked consciences in Iran and around the world. 
Now is the time for everyone who shares Nasrin's unbending commitment to protecting the rights of the Iranian people to stand with her and call for her freedom.

Sotoudeh defended a variety of clients as a member of the Center for the Defense of Human Rights -- her work for the group was the rationale for the "acting against national security" charge -- and the Society for the Protection of the Rights of Children. They included Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, opposition party leader Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, journalists such as Isa Saharkhiz, and student activists such as Atefeh Nabavi. Another client, Arash Rahmanipour, supposedly committed "anti-state" offenses as a minor; he was convicted and eventually killed by the state in violation of international law. A member of the Campaign for One Million Signatures, which fights for an end to laws that discriminate against Iranian women, Sotoudeh also defended several of her fellow members who faced prosecution, including Nahid Keshavarz and Nasim Khosravi.

First arrested in June 2008 while preparing to attend a national women's solidarity event, she faced trial the next February for disturbing the peace but was not sentenced. In August 2010, her home and office were raided and assets frozen. Summoned to Evin the following month, she was denied bail, effective legal representation, and family visitation. In response to her treatment, on October 6, 2010, she began her first hunger strike. Two more followed through January 2011. Each of the three lasted at least three weeks. Her most recent hunger strike is believed to have been her longest.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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