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Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and Farhad Meysami, a human rights defender, protest the suspension of  Sotoudeh's law license in front of the Tehran bar association in Tehran, February 2015.  © Private 2015

(Beirut) – The Iranian judiciary’s draconian sentence for a prominent human rights lawyer is an appalling travesty of justice, Human Rights Watch said today. Branch 28 of Tehran’s revolutionary court has reportedly sentenced Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been in prison since June 2018 serving a 5-year sentence, to an additional 33 years in prison and 148 lashes for her peaceful human rights activism.

On March 11, 2019, Reza Khandan, Sotoudeh’s husband, told Human Rights Watch that authorities formally communicated that they had added an additional 33 years in prison and 148 lashes to Sotoudeh’s existing sentence.

“Iranian authorities apparently decided to follow up International Women’s Day by sentencing a well-known and highly regarded women’s human rights defender to an inconceivably draconian sentence,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Sotoudeh’s sentence is a threat aimed at every human rights advocate in Iran to stop defending human rights.”

Under article 134 of Iran’s penal code:

If the number of offenses that are committed are more than three, the penalty shall not be more than the maximum prescribed punishment provided that it shall not exceed 1.5 times the longest sentence. In these cases, only the harshest prison sentence shall be served.

Authorities arrested Sotoudeh on June 13 to serve a 5-year prison sentence she had received in absentia. Authorities had not informed Sotoudeh of this sentence that they had issued on September 3, 2016.

On March 6, Mohammad Moghimi, who had represented Sotoudeh in other cases, wrote on his social media account that that she was convicted of seven charges: “assembly and collusion against national security;” “propaganda against the state;” “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center, the Legam group (Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty, and the National Peace Council;” “encouraging corruption and prostitution;” “appearing at the judiciary without Islamic hijab;” “disturbing public peace and order;” and “publishing falsehoods with the intent to disturb public opinion.”

Khandan told the Center for Human Rights in Iran that Sotoudeh was tried in absentia in Tehran on December 30 at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court, with Judge Mohammad Moghiseh presiding. She refused to appear in court because she was denied the right to choose her own lawyer and wanted to protest the unjust judicial process.

On March 11, Moghiseh told the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) that his court had sentenced Sotoudeh on the charge of “assembly and collusion against the state” to five years in prison and to two years on the charge of “insulting the supreme leader.” Sotoudeh’s family is not aware of this sentence, Khandan told Human Rights Watch.

Sotoudeh’s previous conviction – which Human Rights Watch reviewed, indicated that her 5-year sentence was based solely on her human rights activism.

That verdict says, citing Intelligence Ministry reporting, that she carried out:

Activities against national security in collaboration with domestic and foreign anti-revolutionary elements, including [by] participating in meetings with foreign diplomats suspected of having ties to intelligence services, and these meetings have taken place with a human rights cover to increase pressure of enemy governments [on Iran] and to condemn Iran as a human rights violators…

The verdict also cites her public support of the “illegal” group Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to reducing executions in Iran. The verdict claims that Sotoudeh’s support for this group reveals “her strategy in opposing the Islamic rulings and abolishing death penalty and Qisas,” which is a retributive punishment under Sharia law.

Prior to her arrest in June 2018, Sotoudeh represented several women who had taken off their headscarves in public to protest Iran’s compulsory dress code (hijab) laws. She also criticized the judiciary’s move to allow only an extremely limited pre-approved government list of lawyers to represent people charged with national security crimes.

On August 1, Intelligence Ministry authorities arrested Farhad Meysami, a human rights defender protesting compulsory hijab laws. Meysami embarked on a long-term hunger strike after his arrest to protest the charges. On September 4, authorities also arrested Khandan and released him on bail on December 23.

On January 22, Moghimi, the lawyer who had previously represented Soutedeh, told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that branch 15 of Tehran’s revolutionary court had sentenced Khandan and Meysami to 6 years in prison on charges of assembly and collusion to act against national security and propaganda against the state mainly for their peaceful activism against compulsory hijab laws.

“Iranian authorities’ answer to popular perceptions of incompetence, corruption, and despotism is to silence the human rights defenders defending ordinary people,” Page said. “That is unlikely to be a winning government strategy in the long-term.”

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