Prominent HRD’s lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh sentenced to 38 years imprisonment


Human rights defenders including women’s rights defenders, environmental defenders and labour rights activists continue to be targeted in Iran. As previously reported on the Monitor, protesters who took to the streets to protest against the obligatory wearing of the hijab were arrested and detained. The arrests and detentions were condemned by human rights organisations and UN human rights experts and in late November 2018, the UN expressed particular concern about the situation of Farhad Meysami, a medical doctor, who was arrested in July 2018 after his advocacy in support of women protesting against the hijab law. Mr. Meysami had begun a hunger strike in August in protest against the charges and the lack of access to a lawyer of his choosing. Meysami finally ended his hunger strike after 145 days but remains in detention.

On 11th March 2019, Nasrin Sotoudeh’s husband posted on his facebook account that Sotoudeh had been sentenced to 33 years imprisonment, and 148 lashes. This brings her total imprisonment term to 38 years. As reported previously on the CIVICUS Monitor, Sotoudeh had been serving a five year sentence that was delivered on 15th August 2018, for criticising the judiciary, and for providing legal representation to women who had been charged for removing their hijabs in public. On 25th August 2018, Sotoudeh had also gone on hunger strike to protest the treatment of her friends and colleagues, including Dr. Meysami. Sotoudeh was also facing an additional charge for allegedly receiving a cash prize from the European Parliament six years ago, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). 

The Iranian authorities have also targeted other human rights lawyers according to Human Rights Watch. On 10th December 2018, the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) reported that a revolutionary court had sentenced Qasem Sholehsadi and Arash Keykhosravi, human rights lawyers that had been arrested during a gathering in front of parliament on 18th August 2018, to six years in prison. Sholehsadi was sentenced to five years in prison on the charge of “assembly and collusion to act against national security” and an additional year for “propaganda against the state. Mohammad Najafi, also a human rights lawyer who was serving a three-year sentence for exposing torture in prison, was sentenced to an additional 10 years for “cooperating with an enemy state through transferring information and news to anti-revolutionary networks…”  and to another 3 years for “propaganda against the state and insulting the Supreme Leader.” On 20th November 2018, authorities also detained Amir Salar Davoudi, another human rights lawyer.

On 23rd December 2018, human rights defender Reza Khandan, the husband of imprisoned human-rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, was released from prison in Iran, his lawyer Mohammad Moghimi said in a post on Facebook. As previously reported on the Monitor, Khandan had been arrested and detained in September 2018 for “spreading propaganda against the system”, amongst other charges, and was accused of “promoting the practice of appearing in public without a veil”.

Eight environmental activists who were detained in 2018 appeared in court for the first hearing of their case on 30th January 2019. Houman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Sam Rajabi, Taher Ghadirian, Abdoreza Kouhpayeh, and Morad Tahbaz, members of a local environmental group, the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, whose cases were previously documented on the CIVICUS Monitor, appeared in court for the opening of the trial on accusations of spying. According to Human Rights Watch, the trial has not met international standards and their lawyers were not allowed to review the indictment before the trial began. During the trial, one of the defendants claimed that they were tortured and coerced into making false confessions.

Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said:

“The gravity of due process violations against these activists over the past year, and the recent allegation of torture and forced confessions, has reinforced the reality that the judiciary is a tool of repression and a symbol of injustice…. The highest-ranking authorities should immediately investigate this allegation of torture, immediately call for the release of these activists, and end the grave abuses against them.”

Peaceful Assembly

On 20th January 2019, labour rights activist Ismael Bakhshi, and journalist and labour rights activist Sepideh Gholian, were arrested, a day after Iranian state television broadcasted confessions that they said they were forced to make in detention. Bakhshi, a leading representative for the workers at the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company in Shush, Khuzistan Province, alleged that he had been severely beaten during his detention in November 2018 after he was arrested for peacefully protesting unpaid wages. Gholian had said on her twitter account that she had witnessed the beating. A union representing sugarcane workers has called for international action to secure their release. In a post which was published by Independent Workers of the Seven Hills Workers on its Telegram app channel on 11th February 2019, the workers union said:

“We want a case opened against the Iranian government for its violation of the rights of these two individuals and strongly urge an end to the pressures on Bakhshi and Qoliyan (also spelled Gholian) to make forced confessions and sign pledges against their will…. We want them to be freed unconditionally and the cases against them…. to be closed.”


Writers and journalists have also been targeted, through arrest and prosecution because of their work in exposing human rights violations and governance malpractices.

The Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported that in January 2019, three senior members of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) were charged with national security crimes for peacefully protesting state censorship policies. IWA board members Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan Mahabadi and Keyvan Bajan were charged with “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion against national security” and “encouraging women into corruption and prostitution” for allegedly printing declarations and internal publications opposing the censorship of art and literature in Iran. Mahabadi and Abtin were released from Tehran’s Evin Prison on 27th and 28th January respectively after posting bail set at one billion tomans (approximately $237,000 USD). During their detention, they were denied access to their lawyers. 

Also in January 2019 journalist Yashar Soltani was sentenced to five years in prison for exposing extensive corruption, according to the CHRI. In August 2016, Soltani had published an unclassified letter from the government’s National Inspection Organization that exposed the appropriation of government funds and properties.