“Nasrin cannot remain silent in the face of injustice. And neither should we.” (Shaparak Shajarizadeh)
In early March, Nasrin Sotoudeh, prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for defending women’s rights. In response to this punishment, Amnesty International has called her imprisonment and condemnation to 148 lashes an “outrageous injustice,” as well as “the harshest sentence [they have] documented against a human rights defender in Iran in recent years.” Sotoudeh is 55 years old and has a husband and two children who have not been permitted to visit her during her time in jail. She has received various awards for her human rights work; however, the Iranian government strongly disagrees with the beliefs and values she stands for, which most notably include a woman's right to decide, on her own, whether or not she wants to wear a hijab. Sotoudeh has also represented and defended the rights of abused mothers and children, as well as numerous activists and journalists who have been punished for upholding ideas and beliefs that differ from those instilled by the Iranian government. She has been in jail for various illegitimate criminal charges since June 13, 2018, and just a month ago, her sentence was increased due to more charges being brought against her. Some of these charges include “colluding against the system” and “insulting” the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In other words, Sotoudeh has been imprisoned for not abiding by the Iranian law that oppresses so many women, and for going against the status quo. Sotoudeh has dedicated her life’s work primarily to defending women’s rights to remove the mandatory hijab; however, this work has led to her being charged for “prostitution” because a Muslim woman who refuses to wear a headscarf is considered “impure” and “corrupt.” As a result, Sotoudeh’s undying support of this choice for women has associated her with that same impurity and corruption. Soutoudeh is one of seven human rights lawyers who has been jailed in Iran over the past year for enforcing and promoting ideas that the Iranian government does not agree with. Despite these unjust jailings, “only a day after news of Nasrin’s conviction broke, [the U.N.] outrageously allowed Iran to assume leadership in [their] Commission on the Status of Women, where it will now oversee all allegations of abuses against women.” This promotion of Iran to take control of and oversee the Commission on the Status of Women has potentially threatening implications according to various human rights activists.
In Shaparak Shajarizadeh’s article, “This Iranian Lawyer Saved My Life. Now We Must Save Hers,” she recounts her traumatic experience of being arrested for removing her headscarf, and how Nasrin Sotoudeh came to her aid during that time. Shajarizadeh states, “I had removed my headscarf in public and put the video online, in protest of Iran’s forced hijab law and the stifling control over women’s bodies and choices that it represents.” Shajarizadeh removed her headscarf in solidarity with other Iranian women during what is called White Wednesday, which involves women “courageously [defying] the regime in removing their headscarves, or wearing a white shawl in support of those who did.” While in jail, Soutoudeh paid her a visit and assured her that she was going to do everything she could to free her: “She told me that my struggle is her struggle – the struggle of all Iranian women – that I am not alone, and that she would not relent until I am free.” It was only three days after representing Shajarizadeh at her trial that Soutoudeh was arrested in June of 2018. Shajarizadeh now lives in exile in Canada where she is seeking asylum. Upon arriving in Canada, she noted, “I was struck by the contrast with my new home. I am now surrounded by women who feel free to be themselves … I felt grateful not only to be free, but for the ability to assemble and protest for those who are not.” In defense of Sotoudeh, Shajarizadeh made the following statement: "We must use our freedom to help Nasrin secure hers. Whether on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram or in public protests and petitions, we must be her voice. In doing so, we will give Nasrin the lifesaving message she had given me, and so many others: you are not alone."
In regards to what must be done about Soutoudeh’s illegitimate and abusive imprisonment for fabricated criminal charges, Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, argues that “governments with influence over Iran should use their power to push for Nasrin Sotoudeh’s release. The international community, notably the European Union, which has an ongoing dialogue with Iran, must take a strong public stand against this disgraceful conviction and urgently intervene to ensure that she is released immediately and unconditionally.” Currently, more than 600,000 people have signed a petition calling for Soutoudeh's release from prison. As stated by Shajarizadeh, it is necessary that Sotoudeh's story is heard and shared amongst various communities in order to help people become aware of the injustices that human rights lawyers face in response to their work on a daily basis. In a world wrought with oppression, inequality, maltreatment, and brutality, people whose ideas do not abide by the status quo are often viewed as threatening to the norms of society and are therefore punished and severely reprimanded. Governments continuously attempt to silence these people through imprisonment, and this cycle must be stopped. If you would like to sign the petition created by Amnesty International that calls on the Supreme Leader of Iran to release Nasrin Sotoudeh immediately from prison for the charges that she did not commit, please click here.