Iran: Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jila Baniyaghoob released from Evin Prison!

Justice for Iran

On Sunday June 23, 2013, the Islamic Republic regime used Sha’baan, the holy month of Islam to temporarily release Nasrin Sotoudeh from Evin Prison. She is an award-winning lawyer, human rights activist and mother of two who is sentenced to six years in prison. Jila Baniyaghoob, award-winning journalist, women’s rights activist, and spouse of imprisoned journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amouie, was also released from Evin on the same day after she had reached the end of her one-year prison sentence.

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Following their releases Nasrin Sotoudeh (center) and Jila Baniyaghoob (second from the left) were embraced by friends, family and colleagues, including: journalist Nazanin Khosravani (far left), Ms. Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan (back, center) and daughter Mehraveh (third from right), and political activist Asal Esmaeilzadeh (second from right). Ms. Sotoudeh’s son, five-year-old Nima, is standing closely beside his mother.

Nasrin Sotoudeh

A member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, the One Million Signatures Campaign to Change Discriminatory Laws against Women, and the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child.

Before her arrest in September 2010 Nasrin Sotoudeh had represented a long list of Iranian activists and individuals on death row (E.g. juvenile offenders, political prisoners). Some of her more well-known clients are: imprisoned journalists Isa Saharkhiz and Keyvan Samimi, imprisoned political activist Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, imprisoned student activists Zia Nabavi and Shabnam Madadzadeh, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi. Additionally, Ms. Sotoudeh was the lawyer working on the cases of Arash Rahmanipour and Iranian-Dutch citizen Zahra Bahrami, who were both executed following the Islamic Republic’s 2009 Presidential election. During the post-election aftermath Ms. Sotoudeh also represented the families of Meysam Ebadi and Ahmad Nejati-Kargar, two individuals who were killed during street protests.

In January 2010, after Mr. Rahmanipour was executed, regime authorities put Ms. Sotoudeh under pressure for talking to foreign media about the unlawful nature of her client’s arrest and conviction. She told  the German news site Deutsche Welle: “They did not allow me to attend [Mr. Rahmanipour’s] interrogation session or his trial. When I insisted…they threatened me with arrest. They even confiscated my license.”

In August 2010, regime security forces raided Ms. Sotoudeh’s office and confiscated her computers’ hard drives.   According to her husband the arrest warrant read:  “Nasrin Sotoudeh, accused of collusion and acting against national security.” Independent sources believe Ms. Sotoudeh was under pressure at that time for her defense of Ms. Bahrami, who was sent to prison in 2009 and was held there until her execution in late January 2011.

A week before the Islamic Republic executed Ms. Bahrami, her daughter Banafsheh Nayebpour told an Iranian opposition website: “[Nasrin Sotoudeh] bravely defended my mother and was the only person who gave an interview to a Dutch newspaper and said that the charges related to ‘possession of narcotics’ is fabricated. I think it’s because [Ms. Sotoudeh] spread news and defended her clients that it landed her in trouble (i.e. imprisonment].”

Ms. Sotoudeh was arrested on September 4, 2010, after she had arrived to Evin Prison as per a summons order. According to Mr. Khandan, because his wife had not anticipated arrest and thought they would only hold her for an hour, she did not say her goodbyes to him or their children. Announcing the news to Deutsche Welle, Mr. Khandan also revealed that Islamic Republic officials had threatened him and his wife’s lawyers with arrest in the event they gave interviews to the media.

Three weeks after her arrest Ms. Sotoudeh launched a hunger strike to protest against the violation of her rights as an imprisoned Iranian citizen. Ms. Sotoudeh was banned from phone and visitation rights. She broke her hunger strike after one month, in late October 2010, when she was permitted a visit from her sister. However, in November 2010, Ms. Sotoudeh launched another hunger strike to protest against the mishandling of her case file. This time she refused water as well, staging a dry hunger strike. Overall Ms. Sotoudeh has staged more than four lengthy hunger strikes throughout the first two years of her imprisonment, and her physical health has suffered as a result. She has been connected to IVs a multiple times and suffered from digestive problems. Mr. Khandan said in media interview from 2010: “I didn’t recognize Nasrin because her face was so gaunt. She weighed 125 Lbs. when she was arrested, but since her incarceration she has lost approximately 28 Lbs.”

Throughout her imprisonment Ms. Sotoudeh has been held in solitary confinement for long durations without any contact with the outside world and has been repeatedly interrogated and psychologically tortured.

On November 15, 2010, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, presided by Judge PirAbassi, charged Ms. Sotoudeh with “Acting against national security” and “Propaganda against the regime”.  In January 2011, Judge PirAbassi sentenced Ms. Sotoudeh to 11 years in prison and banned her from practicing law and leaving the country for 20 years. She was issued one year in prison for “Propaganda against the regime” and ten years for “Acting against national security” and “Violating the Islamic dress code (hijab) during a filmed speech”. In the same month, regime authorities summoned Mr. Khandan in for questioning and detained him for one day.

In September 2011, Branch 54 of the Appeals Court reduced Ms. Sotoudeh’s 11-year prison sentence to six years and her 20-year ban from leaving the country and practicing law to 10 years.

Nasrin Sotoudeh is the recipient of several human rights awards, including the first annual Human Rights Prize in 2008 awarded by Human Rights International Italy. Regime officials stopped Ms. Sotoudeh at the airport as she was attempting to travel to Italy to attend the ceremony. To compensate for her absence, Ms. Sotoudeh submitted a video recording of her acceptance speech. Ms. Sotoudeh is also the recipient of the 2011 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, and the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize which she won along with filmmaker Jafar Panahi.

Earlier this month a ceremony was held for Ms. Sotoudeh in Toronto, Canada to recognize her most recent achievement, receiving an honourary Doctor of Laws degree from York University. From prison Ms. Sotoudeh wrote a message of gratitude to the university.


Jila Baniyaghoob

Jila Baniyaghoob is a prominent Iranian journalist and women’s rights activist who has written mainly for pro-reform publications based in Iran. The content of her work, which focuses on social and economic issues in Iran, has landed Ms. Baniyaghoob in trouble with the Islamic Republic authorities and has resulted in her arrest several times. She is also the editor in chief of a website that publishes content related to women’s issues in Iran.

Ms. Baniyaghoob’s first arrest occurred in 2006 while she was at the University of Tehran reporting on a violent raid by regime security forces on a protest in support of women’s rights.  She was arrested for the second time in March 2007 during a rally for International Women’s Day. She was held in Evin Prison’s security ward 209 for one week until her release. Ms. Baniyaghoob has written a book entitled ‘Women of Evin: Ward 209’ on her prison experience during this time. She has also published a second book entitled, ‘Journalists in Iran’ which details the experiences of Iranian journalists with special focus on the situation of women.

On June 20, 2009, during a widespread crackdown on dissidents and journalists, plainclothes agents raided the home of Ms. Baniyaghoob and her husband Bahman Ahmadi Amouie at night and arrested both of them. Mr. Ahmadi Amouie is sentenced to five years in prison and has been imprisoned for majority of the time since his arrest. After two months of enduring lengthy interrogations and some time in solitary confinement, Ms. Baniyaghoob was released from prison.

In 2010, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Ms. Baniyaghoob to one year in prison and a 30-year ban from journalism activities. She was charged with “Propaganda against the regime” and “Insulting the President”. According to Amnesty International, in 2011 Ms. Baniyaghoob was further charged with “Having a personal blog without any authorization from government authorities”.

In September 2012 Ms. Baniyaghoob was summoned to Evin Prison to begin serving her one-year sentence.Ms. Baniyaghoob is the recipient of the 2009 Courage in Journalism prize by the International Women’s Media Foundation and the 2010 Freedom of Speech Award by Reporters Without Borders.