The Internationalization of Advocacy for Nasrin Sotoudeh Intensifies

Momentum is gaining as many join the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR) in advocating for the case and cause of Iranian human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, imprisoned since June 2018 after being convicted in absentia on spurious charges.

On July 17, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) sent an public letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stressing that “Ms. Sotoudeh has been targeted as a result of her fulfilling her legitimate duties as a legal professional”. On November 29, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) issued a press release calling on “the Government [of Iran] to immediately release all those who have been imprisoned for promoting and protecting the rights of women”, including Nasrin Sotoudeh who was explicitly referenced. On December 13, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in support of a motion “[commending] Nasrin Sotoudeh for her courage and commitment”, and demanding that the “Government of Iran immediately and unconditionally release Nasrin Sotoudeh.”

In Canada, the mobilization of advocacy has intensified as well following the announcement of the RWCHR’s ‘Nelson Mandela’ International Political Prisoner Advocacy Project. At Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, students and professors have published a public letter supporting Nasrin Sotoudeh’s nomination for an honorary doctorate, a measure intended to recognize her fight for justice in Iran while shining a spotlight on her unjust and unlawful imprisonment. The advocacy at Queen’s University, and Nasrin’s pain and plight more generally, was highlighted in an Op-Ed penned by Senator Marilou McPhedran, Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg All-Party Parliamentary Caucus for Human Rights who has adopted Nasrin Sotoudeh’s case and cause as part of the Advocacy Project. In October, RWCHR Chair and Founder Irwin Cotler also published an Op-Ed shattering the silence and sounding the alarm, calling for Nasrin’s immediate release.

Nasrin Sotoudeh poses for a photo with her husband, Reza Khandan, her son, Nima, and her daughter, Mehraveh, at their home in Tehran on Sept. 18, 2013.

Nasrin Sotoudeh poses for a photo with her husband, Reza Khandan, her son, Nima, and her daughter, Mehraveh, at their home in Tehran on Sept. 18, 2013.

About Nasrin Sotoudeh

“Nasrin Sotoudeh [is] the lawyer so many of us human rights defenders in Iran would call when our government harassed us or put one of us, or one of our family members, in jail,” explained Nobel Laureate and one of Nasrin’s former clients, Shirin Ebadi. Indeed, in the words of RWCHR Chair Irwin Cotler, “Sotoudeh is both the embodiment of the struggle for human rights in Iran, as well as the symbol of the Iranian regime’s massive domestic repression. She represents — both legally and figuratively — the hundreds of Iranian citizens imprisoned and imperiled, tortured and tormented, for nothing other than exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and human dignity.”

Indeed, Nasrin’s courage and commitment to justice in the face of persistent and pervasive injustices has touched the lives of all Iranian people, especially the women, children, journalists and religious minorities she has dedicated her life to defending. 

In 2009 following the farcical and fraudulent Iranian elections, Nasrin was handed an eleven-year prison sentence for being one of the only lawyers courageous enough to defend the brave activists and dissidents that took took part in the Green Movement protests. Thankfully, the mobilization of international advocacy — which included York University awarding her an honorary doctorate in 2012 — secured Nasrin’s early release from prison in 2013. Following her release, Nasrin has marched on. This summer, she defended the ‘Girls of Revolution Street’ who were arrested for publicly removing their headscarves in defiance of the compulsory hijab dress code, and organized a sit-in to protest recent restrictions on defendants’ ability to hire independent lawyers. 

For this, Nasrin has been once again unjustly imprisoned in the notorious Evin Prison. Since, her family has been singled-out and targeted for persecution and prosecution: her husband, civil rights activist Reza Khandan, was detained and charged on fabricated charges and her children have been denied the right to visitation. While the internationalization and intensification of advocacy marks an important step in terminating this unjust victimization, we must continue to stand in solidarity with Nasrin, her family, and all other unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders in Iran, not relenting until they are freed.