The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (“BHRC”) has written to Ayatollah Khameini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, to raise concerns in respect of the case of the human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, whose health seriously deteriorated following a prolonged hunger strike. In 2019 she was sentenced to a total of 38 years’ imprisonment and 148 lashes for undertaking her professional obligations to her clients by enabling them to exercise the basic human right of access to justice.
BHRC are deeply concerned for Ms Sotoudeh, who has remained in Evin prison despite measures brought in to release to release thousands of prisoners to deal with overcrowding and sanitary concerns in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In September 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated the concerns of several UN experts that political prisoners and prisoners of conscience have been excluded from such temporary release measures, and urged Iranian authorities to pursue such releases as an urgent public health measure.
According to the facts received, on 11 August 2020 Ms Sotoudeh began a second hunger strike to demand the release of political prisoners in Iran. Her health severely deteriorated and she was hospitalised on 19 September 2020. On 23 September she was returned to Evin prison despite reports of concerning cardiac issues. Following this, several UN experts called for her immediate release for medical treatment. It has since been reported that Ms Sotoudeh has ended her hunger strike.
Ms Sotoudeh’s important and courageous work includes defending women prosecuted under Iran’s laws on compulsory veiling and peaceful public protest. In 2012, she received the European Union’s most prestigious human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. In a letter to the UK Foreign Secretary on 20 March 2019, BHRC and the Bar Council noted that the sentence passed against her under Article 134 of Iran’s Penal Code is the harshest sentence Amnesty International has documented against a human rights defender Iran in recent years.
In the letter, BHRC respectfully urges the Islamic Republic of Iran to ensure urgent steps are taken to monitor and safeguard the health of Nasrin Sotoudeh. BHRC strongly reiterates our call for the immediate release of Ms Sotoudeh, as well as all lawyers detained in Iran for performing their professional duties.