Jailed human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has published an open letter from Evin Prison claiming the verdicts issued by Iran’s Revolutionary Courts “violate the principles of a fair trial … in almost all cases”.
Nasrin, who was sentenced last month to 38 years in jail and 148 lashes on a variety of charges, said “a large number of political and civil activists and followers of other faiths confront the dangers of such unfair trials” and that the “trend is so extensive and systematic that many of the accused are overlooked”.
“In these trials, the lawyer is prevented from attending the trial; the court does not require security agencies to submit any reasons or documents; the accused is not given enough time for defence. This is the practice of the courts, which issue several-decades-long sentences for people, and now many of them are lingering in prison for years under difficult circumstances,” she wrote on her official Facebook page (in Farsi) on Friday.
Nasrin, who is 55 years old, was arrested in June 2018 and informed that she had been sentenced in absentia to five years in prison.
The charges against her at that time included allegedly helping to form “house churches”, even though fellow lawyer Mohammad Hossein Aghasi told Radio Farda “there are no articles or notes in the Islamic Penal Code that ban launching home churches, let alone assisting others to do so”.
“However, if such a move leads to ‘apostasy’,” he added, “it might be counted as abetting a crime.
“Meanwhile, for every charge, there should be at least evidence along with witnesses who testify that Sotoudeh has been practically active in assisting people to launch home churches or has called upon others to do so and has invested in such activities. [Such evidence and witnesses are missing,] therefore Sotoudeh cannot be charged with it.”
Nasrin previously served three years of a six-year sentence for “acting against national security”. On her release in September 2013, her license to practise law was revoked, though it was later reinstated after she staged a sit-in outside the Iranian Bar Association.
In her letter on Friday, Nasrin said that she had been convicted of seven charges:
- Association and collusion to sabotage national security – 7.5 years
- Membership in LEGAM campaign (an anti-death penalty movement) – 7.5 years
- Public activities against the state – 1.5 years
- Encouraging corruption and prostitution – 12 years
- Appearing in public without religious covering of hair – 74 lashes
- Publication of falsities to distort public opinion – 3 years + 74 lashes
- Disruption of public order and calm – 2 years
“So, the verdicts issued against me amount to a total of 38.5 years plus 148 lashes of the whip,” she wrote.
Nasrin’s work has gained her international acclaim, including being awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament in 2012.
Amnesty International has been among the rights groups that have campaigned for her release, calling her a “prisoner of conscience” targeted for “her work as a lawyer defending women who have peacefully protested against compulsory veiling”.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, specifically mentioned Nasrin’s case last month as he highlighted the “worrying patterns of intimidation, arrest, prosecution, and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, lawyers, and labour rights activists in Iran”, which he said signalled an “increasingly severe State response to protests and strikes in the country”.