IRAN: Human-rights lawyer sentenced to 11 years in prison, barred from law for 20 [Updated]
[Updated, Jan. 11, 2:09 a.m. PDT: The United States has now spoken out against the sentencing of human-rights lawyer Nasrine Sotoudeh to 11 years in prison. In a press statement. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley called the sentence "unjust and harsh" and called for her release. "Ms. Sotoudeh is a strong voice for rule of law and justice in Iran," the statement said. "Her conviction is part of a systematic attempt on the part of Iranian authorities to silence the defense of democracy and human rights in Iran."]
She was also banned on Sunday from practicing law or traveling for 20 years.
A representative of France's foreign ministry said the punishment was "deeply shocking" and called for the release of Sotoudeh along with another activist, Shiva Nazar-Ahari, who was sentenced to four years in prison and 74 lashes.
"The only known fault of Nasrin Soutoudeh is of specializing in the defense of human rights, particularly those of women, minors and journalists," foriegn ministry spokesman Barnard Valero was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.
Sotoudeh was convicted of acting against national security, propaganda against the regime and failing to wear the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, in a videotaped message, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Sotoudeh's family. The campaign said that the mother of two, 46 or 47 years old, was tortured and in poor health when her family was finally allowed to see her, adding that her children burst into tears.
Sotoudeh aroused the ire of the judiciary earlier this year when she spoke out about the secret execution of one of her clients who was convicted of belonging to an outlawed monarchist group and hanged before dawn on Jan. 28, 2010, without Sotoudeh's knowledge.
On Sept. 4, Sotoudeh was arrested and placed in solitary confinement, but her case was taken up by fellow activists and even the British ambassador in Tehran, which appears to have further enraged the authorities.
Then, last month, the ambassador, Simon Gass, penned an article for the embassy's website in which he criticized Iran's human-rights record and called for Sotoudeh's release, writing that Sotoudeh's "real crime" was “doing her job courageously and highlighting injustices that the Iranian regime would prefer stayed hidden.”
Several conservative Iranian lawmakers called for Iranian-U.K. relations to be reevaluated in response to Gass' essay.
A Dec. 28 editorial in the pro-government newspaper Jam-e Jam slammed British diplomats for their "impudent statements" on Iran's human-rights record, accusing the U.K. of seeking to distract observers from recent clashes in London between protesters and police.
"These so-called defenders of human rights that he referred to are being supported by the governments of U.K., U.S. and other Western countries," it read. "They bring up the one-sided view of human-rights issues in Iran, not knowing that at present human rights are being trampled in Europe and countries like the U.K. and France."
Sotoudeh is one of a small group of lawyers who make a special effort to represent minorities, activists and women accused of violating the state's strict morality laws. The Los Angeles Times is among the newspapers that have profiled Sotoudeh and chronicled her struggle to practice law even in politically charged cases.
Amnesty International's U.K. director, Kate Allen, issued a statement in support of Sotoudeh and Nazar-Ahari, calling them prisoners of conscience. She said five years of Sotoudeh's sentence were for being a member of an outlawed human-rights group -- a group to which she said Sotoudeh did not belong.
“Both of these brave women have been jailed solely for their legitimate work promoting the human rights of Iranian people," she said in the statement. “Nasrin Sotoudeh has spoken openly about the failings of Iran’s justice system. Now she is a victim of those failings."
-- Meris Lutz in Beirut
Photo: Nasrin Sotoudeh in November 2007. The prominent human-rights lawyer has been sentenced to 11 years in prison. Credit: Newsha Tavakolian / Polaris/For The Times