Iran: UN experts “shocked” at prison sentence for lawyer
Iran should immediately free prominent human rights lawyer and defender Nasrin Sotoudeh from jail pending a review of her conviction and sentence, say UN human rights experts*.
Varying reports suggest Ms. Sotoudeh has been sentenced to between seven and 33 years’ imprisonment, and that she has been sentenced to 148 lashes. It is also reported she could serve over 10 years in prison.
She has reportedly been detained since June 2018 after her arrest for a 2016 in absentia conviction and five year prison sentence for espionage.
The Iranian authorities subsequently laid seven further charges against her, including allegations related to national security, public order and appearing before the judiciary without a hijab.
“We are deeply concerned about Ms. Sotoudeh’s conviction and the prison sentence imposed. Her detention and the charges against her appear to relate to her work as a human rights lawyer, especially representing Iranian women human rights defenders arrested for peacefully protesting against laws making the wearing of veils compulsory for women,” the experts said.
The experts also expressed deep concern that Ms. Sotoudeh had not received a fair trial. Regarding her 2016 conviction, she apparently had no knowledge that espionage charges had been laid against her until she was arrested in 2018.
She was also reportedly denied the right to a lawyer of her own choosing for her most recent trial. Instead, she was apparently asked to choose from a list of lawyers pre-approved by the Iranian judiciary. Ms. Sotoudeh reportedly refused to attend her trial on 30 December 2018 in protest.
“In view of the apparent lack of a fair trial and concerns about the arbitrary nature of the charges, we urge the Iranian authorities to immediately review Ms. Sotoudeh’s conviction, release her pending the outcome of the review, and ensure that her human and legal rights are fully guaranteed,” the experts said.
In 2011, Ms. Sotoudeh was the subject of an Opinion by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concerning her earlier arrest and conviction. The Working Group found that her detention on that occasion was due to the exercise of the rights to freedom of thought, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, and her work as a human rights defender.
It said there were no grounds to justify the restriction of her rights and noted a number of violations of international standards relating to the right to a fair trial. Her deprivation of liberty was therefore found by the Working Group to have been arbitrary**.
Ms. Sotoudeh’s situation is also emblematic of an increase in the harassment, arrest and detention of human rights lawyers in Iran in recent months.
“Lawyers play an essential role in ensuring the protection of human rights. We urge the Iranian authorities to release all lawyers arbitrarily detained for their work defending the legal and human rights of Iranians, and to allow lawyers to undertake their work free from fear of arrest or intimidation by the state,” the experts said.
The experts stated that any prison term for defending human rights was a serious violation of Iran’s international obligations.
“Regardless of the length, any prison sentence imposed for defending human rights defenders and their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly amounts to arbitrary detention,” they said.
The UN experts have notified the Government of Iran about their concerns.