Nasrin Sotoudeh, Jailed Iranian Human Rights Lawyer, Ends Second Hunger Strike

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You wouldn't expect the U.N. to get worked up over one lawyer, but on Tuesday, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights said that they were "extremely concerned" about Nasrin Sotoudeh," an Iranian human rights lawyer who has been imprisoned since September 2010.

In October 2012, Sotoudeh began a hunger strike to protest her prison conditions and the travel ban imposed on her family, spokesman Rupert Colville said. Since then, she was kept in solitary confinement for three weeks, her family's visiting privileges were stripped, and her health quickly deteriorated. 

"The Iranian authorities claim that Ms. Sotoudeh is in a good health," Colville said in a statement. "However, her husband, who was recently allowed to visit her, says her health has reached a critical stage. The high commissioner urges the government of Iran to urgently address Ms. Sotoudeh’s situation. ... The U.N. human rights mechanisms view the imprisonment of Ms. Sotoudeh as arbitrary and in violation of various provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Colville also noted that the execution rate in Iran has "accelerated to an alarming pace in recent weeks."

Sotoudeh is currently serving a six-year term in Tehran’s Evin Prison, the U.N. said. She was originally thrown in jail on charges of "spreading propaganda" and "conspiring to harm state security," the BBC reported at the time. 

Sotoudeh studied law at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran and worked for the government and the state-owned Bank Tejarat before taking the bar. After the 2009 Iranian elections, in which opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi lost to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in what were widely considered to be fraudulent elections, Sotoudeh defended imprisoned opposition politicians and activists.

Her arrest was part of a larger crackdown by the Iranian government after the 2009 elections, reported the Washington Post, and Sotoudeh was the most prominent lawyer to be arrested and charged. She was originally sentenced to 20 years in jail on 11 charges in January 2011. In September, an appeals court lessened the sentence to six years. She is also banned from practicing law for 10 years. 

This is the second hunger strike Sotoudeh has carried out while imprisoned: The first one was in 2010 to protest her family being denied contact with her just after she was arrested.

On Tuesday, after 49 days of striking for a second time, Sotoudeh ended her strike after several parliamentarians visited her and assured her that her 12-year-old daughter would be allowed to visit, Iran Green Voice reported.

When her husband, Reza Khaden, visited Sotoudeh on Oct. 17, he described her condition to Iran Green Voice as "drastic." 

"I don't expect her to last until our next meeting," he said. "Dizziness, impaired vision, unsteadiness in walking and low [blood] pressure are alarming signs of deterioration, besides the extreme thinness."

Iran was condemned by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and myriad other international agencies for Sotoudeh's imprisonment. 

Sotoudeh has won three awards while in prison. In 2011, she received the Pen/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom To Write Award and the Rule of Law Citation from Southern Illinois University School of Law. In 2012, she received the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named after Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov and designated for people who "combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression. ... All the winners of the prize have shown how much courage it takes to defend human rights and freedom of expression."

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