American Bar Association (ABA) president Stephen N. Zack has strongly condemned the unfair trial and sentencing of an Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.
Sotoudeh, who has worked with Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, was arrested last September and sentenced earlier this month to 11 years in prison by Iranian authorities. Her sentence included five years for acting against national security, another five years for not wearing a hijab (a headscarf worn by Muslim women) during a videotaped message and an additional one year for propaganda against the regime.
In addition to her 11 years prison term, Sotoudeh has also been barred from practicing law or leaving the country for 20 years.
However, according to Sotoudeh's husband Reza Khandan, his wife's main crime was defending fellow lawyers accused of crimes related to their human rights advocacy and giving interviews to foreign media.
Khandan said the ruling will destroy Sotoudeh's career because the 20 years ban commences after she completes her prison term. However her spirit is strong, The New York Times quoted Khandan as saying. Sotoudeh's defense lawyers said they are appealing the ruling.
Like Khandan, many people believe that the conviction and sentencing were politically motivated as Sotoudeh was a founding member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, an association of lawyers led by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who left Iran in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election and subsequent crackdown on opposition figures.
The center was closed down last month by the Iranian authorities and two other lawyers and founding members of the center - Mohammad Seifzadeh and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah - were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. Dadkhah was released on bail last September after more than a year in prison, while Seifzadeh was sentenced in October to nine years.
According to ABA President Stephen N. Zack, Iran should fulfill its human rights obligations under international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.
Iran also should observe both the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers to ensure that Iranian lawyers can work 'without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.'
Further, Zack said, Iran should, consistent with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, 'take all necessary measures' to ensure human rights defenders are protected against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary actions resulting from their legitimate human rights efforts.
Sotoudeh is the latest human rights lawyer to be punished by the country's Islamic government for her outspokenness.
Since Iran's 2009 presidential election, hundreds of reformists, who claim the vote was rigged, have been detained and put on trial in a crackdown on the pro-reform opposition.
Last August, Mohammad Mostafaei, who represented Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning, fled to Norway to escape persecution by the government after he helped expose Ashtiani’s case to the international news media.
A second lawyer for Ashtiani, Javid Houtan Kian, was arrested last October and remains in Iranian custody.