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Iran: Overturn Nasrin Sotoudeh's sentence and release her immediately

Wednesday 20 March 2019 - 10:09am

Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian human rights lawyer, has been sentenced to up to 38 years in jail and 148 lashes for defending Iranian womens' right to choose whether or not to wear the hijab.

20 March 2019 - PEN International joins its Nordic PEN centres call for all charges against lawyer and rights activist to be dropped. 

PEN International joins Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish PEN centres in expressing deep concern for the well-being of Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was handed over 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for national security-related offences.  Sotoudeh, an award-winning human rights defender and an Honorary Member of PEN Finland, is known for her role as a defender of rights of women detained for refusing mandatory covering of their hair in public. She was arrested in June 2018 for defending women prosecuted for appearing in public without a headscarf, or hijab. She was charged with spreading propaganda against the state, insulting the country’s supreme leader and spying.

We are deeply alarmed by by the wrongful conviction of Sotoudeh. We condemn the ruling not only as an egregious violation of rights of the lawyer in question, but also for the questions this sentencing raises about the judicial process itself. The crackdown on dissenting voices in Iran is a direct violation of the principles of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.

Defending human rights is not a crime 

Lawyers such as Nasrin Sotoudeh are doing invaluable human rights work by representing suppressed voices in a time of veiled judicial crackdown on civil society in Iran. She is a symbol of civil courage to many around the world. A mother of two, she was previously arrested in 2010 and sentences to 11 years of in prison 2011 on similar charges. She was released in 2013 after increasing international condemnation. Since the revolution of 1979, Iran’s powerful clergy establishment have remained in control of the state. Arrests, tortures and enforced disappearances of dissidents have become a pattern in Iran in recent years. The sentencing of Sotoudeh is a clear manifestation that Iranian judicial machinery, dominated by hardliners, has become an instrument of the ultra-conservative clergy that suppress dissident voices.

PEN International joins its Nordic PEN centres to call for the protection of Nasrin Sotoudeh’s right to freedom of expression. as enshrined in international charters and various global conventions.

We urge Iranian authorities to: Ensure that the arbitrary charges against Nasrin Sotoudeh are dropped and she gets immediate and unconditional release;

  1. Ensure that she, without delay, has regular and unrestricted access to her family and lawyers of her own choosing; that she has an effective opportunity to appeal the verdict and that she receives all necessary medical treatment;
  2. Immediately release all writers, journalists and human rights defenders who are under trial for expressing their legitimate rights to freedom of expression;
  3. Uphold the independence of the judiciary;
  4. Investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment during detention;
  5. Put an end to acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against all human rights defenders in Iran. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by United Nations General Assembly.

    We urge our governments, Nordic Council, European Union, the United Nations and others to:

  1. Scrutinize Iran’s attack on dissident voices and put pressure on Iranian government to ensure release of country’s imprisoned human rights defenders including Nasrin Sotoudeh;
  2. Press Iranian government to respect rights of women and adhere to its obligations to international covenants, conventions and treaties in which Iran is a state party;
  3. Use their leverage to press Iranian government to affect changes.


    Veera Tyhtilä President of Finnish PEN
    Jesper Bengtsson President of Swedish PEN
    William Nygaard President of Norwegian PEN
    Per Øhrgaard President of Danish PEN