Human rights lawyer and Iranian political prisoner Nasrin Sotoudeh

Human rights lawyer and Iranian political prisoner Nasrin Sotoudeh has finally been sent to the hospital from Evin Prison.

Sotoudeh, now in Tehran’s Taleghani Hospital, began suffering heart problems on Saturday, September 19, but there has been no further update on her condition.

Sotoudeh has been on hunger strike since August 11, which has meant that her physical state has rapidly deteriorated.

The 57-year-old began her hunger strike to protest the refusal of the Iranian Judiciary to send political prisoners on temporary leave (furlough) during the coronavirus pandemic, which is currently ripping through Iranian prisons.

Her protest also covered the terrible sanitary conditions in prisons, where too many prisoners are crowded into too small places, so they cannot socially distance. Prisoners are also subjected to dirty living conditions, with no bleach or cleaning equipment. They are also denied soap and other necessary products to keep themselves clean.

In addition, prisoners are routinely denied medical care and the quarantine ward is right next to the regular ward, separated only by a few bars that cannot stop an airborne illness.

Sotoudeh, a mother of two, is sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for representing women arrested during protests in Iran.

Nasrin Sotoudeh with her daughter and son

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s the Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, said: “It is absolutely shocking that Nasrin Sotoudeh is facing nearly four decades in jail and 148 lashes for her peaceful human rights work, including her defence of women protesting against Iran’s degrading forced hijab (veiling) laws. Nasrin Sotoudeh must be released immediately and unconditionally and this obscene sentence quashed without delay.”

 Sotoudeh, who has spent her life defending women’s rights and speaking out against the death penalty, spent three years in prison on similar charges between 2011 and 2013.

At the time of her sentencing in 2019, Luther called on governments who held sway with or power over Iran to push for Sotoudeh’s release and called the jailing of a human rights defender for peaceful activities, “abhorrent”, advising that Sotoudeh’s sentence is longer than is required under Iranian law.

He said: “Governments with influence over Iran should use their power to push for Nasrin. The international community, notably the European Union, which has an ongoing dialogue with Iran, must take a strong public stand against this disgraceful conviction and urgently intervene to ensure that she is released immediately and unconditionally.”

This was the harshest sentence imposed for political activism at the time and suggested, rightly, that the regime was getting harsher.