Iran: Judicial harassment against human rights lawyer Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh

Urgent Appeal
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New information
IRN 006 / 0910 / OBS 108.5
Disciplinary harassment / Suspension from the bar
October 20, 2014

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Iran.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) of the judicial harassment faced by Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh, human rights lawyer known for defending juveniles facing death penalty, prisoners of conscience, human rights activists and child victims of abuse. She is a member of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC), and winner of the 2012 prestigious Sakharov human rights prize awarded by the European Parliament.

According to the information received, on October 18, 2014, a three-member disciplinary investigation panel of Tehran’s Bar Association communicated a ruling to Ms. Sotoudeh that her law license is to be suspended for three years, based on a complaint filed by the Islamic Revolution Court’s Prosecution Office based in Evin prison. The complainant had asked for her license to be revoked based on her conviction and sentence in 2011. The Observatory recalls that in August 2014, a first disciplinary panel of the Tehran Bar Association rejected a similar request filed by the same complainant and upheld Ms. Sotoudeh’s right to practice law.

The Observatory denounces the October 18th decision by the Tehran Bar Association as arbitrary, as it is based on a court judgement which was itself arbitrary. On May 6, 2011, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) issued an Opinion declaring Ms. Sotoudeh’s 2011 trial and detention arbitrary and illegal.

Furthermore, the Observatory notes that this the first time that a Bar Association in Iran orders the suspension of a lawyer’s license following a court order to that effect. This decision is therefore a worrying indication that the little independence enjoyed by Bar Associations in Iran is declining.

In addition, in order for Ms. Sotoudeh to formally challenge this decision by the Tehran Bar Association, she must file an appeal to the Disciplinary Court for Judges, which is overseen by the same Judiciary that called for the suspension of her licence. This is another example of the undue influence of the Judiciary over the Bar Association’s decisions.

The Observatory therefore requests the President of the Tehran Bar Association to immediately reverse this arbitrary decision, as it seems merely aimed at punishing Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh for her human rights activities.

Background information:

On August 28, 2010, Ms. Sotoudeh’s office and home were searched by members of the government’s intelligence services and her assets were frozen.

On September 4, 2010, Ms. Sotoudeh appeared before the Prosecutor’s Office based in Evin prison, where she had been summoned on allegations of “propaganda against the system” and “collusion and gathering with the aim of acting against national security,” following interviews she had given to international media, as well as for “membership in an illegal organisation,” in reference to the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC). After her questioning by a magistrate, Ms. Sotoudeh was arrested. Her lawyer was not permitted to be present during the questioning.

During her detention Ms. Sotoudeh was held for long periods in solitary confinement, and reportedly tortured, and denied contact with her family and lawyer. She came close to death after three dry hunger strikes to protest her prison conditions and violations of due process.

On November 28, 2010, Ms. Sotoudeh appeared before the Tehran Islamic Revolution Court. At the hearing, her lawyers requested her release on bail, which was denied by the court.

On January 9, 2011, Ms. Sotoudeh was sentenced by Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolution Court to 11 years of imprisonment, and banned from practicing law or traveling abroad for 20 years on charges of “acting against national security,” “propaganda against the system,” “collusion and gathering with the aim of acting against national security,” and “membership in an illegal organisation.” On September 14, 2011, her sentence was reduced by Branch 54 of the Appeals Court to six years imprisonment and a 10 year ban on practicing law. She was also fined by another court for “not wearing hijab during a videotaped message”.

During her detention, Ms. Sotoudeh was repeatedly denied her visitation rights and contact with her family and lawyer. From May 2011 onwards, she was banned from making phone calls in prison. In September and October 2012, prison authorities arbitrarily changed her visitation days, further limiting her family’s capacity to visit her in prison.

On July 11, 2012, the authorities banned Ms. Sotoudeh’s husband and 12-year-old daughter from travelling abroad.

On October 17, 2012, Ms. Sotoudeh started an indefinite hunger strike to protest against the measures restricting her right to visitation and the restrictions placed on her children and husband. In response to her hunger strike, prison authorities subjected Ms. Sotoudeh to three weeks of solitary confinement [1]. From October 31 to November 19, she was illegally transferred from the Women’s Section of Evin Prison to Section 209 [2], a detention centre belonging to the Ministry of Intelligence. As Section 209 is not under the administration of the judiciary, this transfer was not legal.

On November 20, 2012, Ms. Sotoudeh was allowed to receive a visit from her husband and children for the first time since her detention began, although in the presence of security officers. Ms. Sotoudeh was extremely thin at that point and weighed only 43 kilos. She continued her hunger strike December 4, when the Iranian authorities agreed to lift the travel restriction placed on her daughter.

On September 18, 2013, Ms. Sotoudeh was released from prison without an explanation. To date, she has still not received an official notice explaining the grounds or conditions for her release.

Actions requested:

Please write to the Iranian authorities and ask them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh as well as all human rights defenders in Iran;

ii. Refrain from infringing upon the independence of Bar Associations in Iran;

iii. Permit the Tehran Bar Association to reverse its decision to suspend Ms. Sotoudeh’s law licence;

iv. Put an end to acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Ms. Sotoudeh as well as against all human rights defenders in Iran;

v. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular:
article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
article 5(c), which reads that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels, [...] to communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations”,
article 9 which notably states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, inter alia […] to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms,
and article 12.2 which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Iran.


Leader of the Islamic Republic, His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, The Office of the Supreme Leader, Shahid Keshvardoost St., Jomhuri Eslami Ave., Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, Faxes: + 98 21 64411/ 21441 2030, Email:; Twitter: @khamenei_ir
President Hassan Rouhani, the Presidency, Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, Tel: +98 21 64451/6133; Fax: + 98 21644 54811; Email:; Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English) and @Rouhani_ir (Persian)
Head of the Judiciary, His Excellency Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, Office of the Head of the Judiciary, Pasteur Street, Vali Asr Avenue, south of Serah-e Jomhuri, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, Fax: +98 21 879 6671 / +98 21 3 311 6567, Email:; / /
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdolmajid Kushk-e Mesri Av, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, Fax: +98-21-66743149;
Secretary General, High Council for Human Rights, Mr. Mohammed Javad Larijani, [Care of] Office of the Head of the Judicary, Pasteur St, Vali Asr Ave, South of Serah-e Jomhouri, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran. Email:
H.E. Mr. Mohsen Naziri Asl, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chemin du Petit-Saconnex 28, 1209 Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 7330203, Email:
H.E. Mr. Mahmoud Barimani, Ambassador, Embassy of Iran in Brussels, 15 a avenue Franklin Roosevelt, 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 762 39 15. Email:

Please also write to diplomatic representations of the Islamic Republic of Iran in your respective countries.

Paris-Geneva, October 20, 2014

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / 01 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29

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