Iran’s most promi­nent hu­man rights lawyer is in jail. Again

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - JUNE 15, 2018 JA­SON REZAIAN

ON Wed­nes­day, Iran’s lead­ing hu­man rights lawyer, Nas­rin So­toudeh, was ar­rested again. It was a re­minder that Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani is fail­ing to de­liver on many of the key re­forms he promised when he was elected in 2013.

Writ­ing on his Face­book page, So­toudeh’s hus­band, Reza Khan­dan, an­nounced that “a few hours ago Nas­rin was ar­rested at home and sent to the court at Evin [Prison].”

This fam­ily has been through all of this be­fore. “I once told in­ter­roga­tors in the in­ter­ro­ga­tion room: ‘Of all the things the au­thor­i­ties should do for their coun­try, you only know one, and that is ar­rest­ing peo­ple,’” Khan­dan fear­lessly wrote in his post. I met this brave cou­ple once, on the night that So­toudeh had been re­leased from her last stint in Evin Prison, af­ter serv­ing three years of a six-year sen­tence. I vis­ited them at their home in Tehran, which was very close to where my wife and I lived on the west side of the cap­i­tal, just a cou­ple of miles from Evin.

It was Septem­ber 2013. The re­lease of So­toudeh and other ac­tivists was seen by many as a sign of good faith from the Is­lamic Repub­lic to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Rouhani was pre­par­ing to at­tend the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly for the first time and clearly wanted to make a good im­pres­sion.

So­toudeh told me then, “If this new ap­proach that be­gan last night con­tin­ues, then I can say, yes, Rouhani is send­ing a mes­sage to the world and he is en­gag­ing, first with his own peo­ple and then with the rest of the world, and we will wel­come this ges­ture.”

As part of the con­di­tions of her re­lease at the time, she was barred from prac­tic­ing law or trav­el­ling out­side Iran. But she never re­lented, con­tin­u­ing to ad­vo­cate for un­der­rep- re­sented Ira­ni­ans.

Rouhani’s cam­paign slo­gan was “pru­dence and hope,” but more Ira­ni­ans than ever are ar­riv­ing at the con­clu­sion that there are few grounds for hope. There is al­ways a force – do­mes­tic or ex­ter­nal – stand­ing by to dis­ap­point them in their as­pi­ra­tions for a bet­ter fu­ture. A threat to the rul­ing sys­tem Like so many other peo­ple the Ira­nian regime has ar­rested over the years, So­toudeh was con­victed of crimes against na­tional se­cu­rity and pro­pa­ganda against the rul­ing sys­tem. These are two of the catch­phrases that are well known to those of us who have been through Iran’s “rev­o­lu­tion­ary” ju­di­cial process.

What these charges re­ally mean is that the in­di­vid­ual was op­er­at­ing within the con­fines of the rigid laws of the Is­lamic repub­lic, and yet was still per­ceived as a threat that needed to be si­lenced.

Re­cently, So­toudeh has been rep­re­sent­ing women who were ar­rested for de­fy­ing Iran’s com­pul­sory head-cov­er­ing rules, but she is an ac­com­plished hu­man rights lawyer, with a long and dis­tin­guished record of de­fend­ing jour­nal­ists, hu­man rights ac­tivists and de­fen­dants fac­ing the death penalty (some of them chil­dren).

So­toudeh went on mul­ti­ple hunger strikes when she was last in Evin, which raised her in­ter­na­tional pro­file. She re­sisted be­cause she was not al­lowed vis­its with her two young chil­dren. Block­ing a fam­ily’s abil­ity to be with one another, es­pe­cially par­ent and child, is for­bid­den un­der Ira­nian law, but the forces tasked with up­hold­ing the law rarely comply.

One of the most sin­is­ter as­pects of Iran’s ju­di­cial sys­tem is the deep dam­age it does to fam­i­lies. So­toudeh was a vo­cal ad­vo­cate for re­form­ing those ar­chaic and in­hu­mane prac­tices. Now, once again, she is a vic­tim of them.

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