Nasrin Sotoudeh wearing headscarf (© Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)
Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested in June 2018 and faces national security charges for representing women held on politically motivated charges. Tehran, 2014. (© Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)

Granting an interview. Practicing the law. Accepting an award. These activities got people arrested in Iran, and some are sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

Iran has more than 800 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who are routinely tortured in jail and denied due process. Many of these prisoners include human rights lawyers whom the Iranian regime falsely arrested to prevent them from defending persons held on politically sensitive charges.

Here are a few of their stories.

Crackdown on human rights lawyers

Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer, was arrested in June and taken to Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison for representing several of the Iranian women charged with removing their headscarves in public during the White Wednesday protests in Iran.

Following those protests and others in early 2018, Iran’s judiciary compiled a list of 20 state-approved lawyers allowed to represent persons charged with “national security” crimes. Sotoudeh protested this unlawful list, and she was imprisoned alongside seven other human rights lawyers jailed over the past six months.

“We applaud Ms. Sotoudeh’s bravery and her fight for the long-suffering victims of the regime,” said Heather Nauert, U.S. Department of State spokesperson.

France’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Agnes von der Muhll, likewise spoke out against Sotoudeh’s arrest. France “is attached to the defense of human rights and reaffirms its attachment to the freedom of opinion and expression in Iran, as elsewhere in the world.”

Just doing his job

Four people sitting at table (© Vahid Salemi/AP Images)
Abdolfattah Soltani, right, sits alongside fellow Iranian human rights lawyers, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, second left. Tehran, 2004. (© Vahid Salemi/AP Images)

Abdolfattah Soltani had a long career representing political prisoners in Iran before becoming one himself in 2011. He is serving a 13-year prison sentence for accepting the 2009 Nuremberg International Human Rights Award, given to him for his efforts “to uncover and publicly denounce serious human rights violations by Iranian authorities.”

For accepting his award and speaking to the media, he was charged with spreading anti-government propaganda and endangering national security.

“The judiciary isn’t impartial or independent. The real decisionmaker is the Intelligence Ministry,” Soltani’s daughter Maede told the Center for Human Rights in Iran in 2017 from the safety of Germany, where she now lives.

“By law, my father should have been freed three years ago,” she said, referring to Article 58 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code that permits for conditional release if certain requirements are met.

Supporting students’ rights

Arash Sadeghi, a former student activist, also spoke to the media and peacefully advocated for human rights in Iran, prompting Tehran’s Revolutionary Court to sentence him to 15 years in prison.

“I was charged with ‘collusion against national security’ because I supported a group of poor students who had been denied education,” the Center for Human Rights in Iran reported Sadeghi saying after an Appeals Court upheld his sentence in 2016.

Sadeghi was also charged with “spreading lies in cyberspace” and “insulting the Founder of the Islamic Republic [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini]” for quoting historical statements and offering an analysis about events in Iran in the 1980s on his Facebook page.

Sadeghi’s lawyer was not permitted to accompany him to the opening session of his trial, nor allowed to read the entire case file. Today, prison and court authorities are denying Sadeghi proper medical treatment for a tumor as additional punishment.

Speaking to an audience of Iranian Americans in California in July, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated America’s strong support for the people of Iran. He said Iranian citizens “have been ill-treated by a revolutionary regime. Iranians want to be governed with dignity, accountability and respect.”