Free Nasrin Sotoudeh

Nearly 40 years ago I was held hostage in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for nearly six months. I know what it is like to endure the brutality of the Iranian regime, but I got to come home to America. More than 80 million people are forced to absorb the regime’s blows to their basic human rights every day, and have done so since 1979. Dissidents and proponents of human rights from inside Iran need our support now more than ever. Because, as the regime rots from within, it is working overtime to silence and snuff out brave voices of opposition.

There are few such voices in the Islamic Republic more powerful than Nasrin Sotoudeh’s. She is in the unenviable position of being a human rights lawyer in a country without respect for human rights. Her life’s work of defending the dignity of the vulnerable, including Iranian women who have lost their rights, whether in marriage, in dress, or in the right to peacefully protest, has made her a target of a corrupt judicial system.

Imprisoned not once or twice, but four times by Iranian officials, Nasrin is today in the midst of a 38-year prison sentence after having been convicted in absentia on trumped up charges meant to punish her work defending both civil and political rights. The court further sentenced her to 148 lashes and made her ineligible for parole until at least 2031. Her sentence remains one of the longest Iran’s judiciary has handed down against a human rights defender and exemplifies a concerning pattern of escalating charges brought against them.

She is feared by the regime because her voice is mighty and her cause is just. But her health is rapidly declining. She waged a 46-day hunger strike from behind bars to protest the regime’s potentially lethal discrimination against political detainees and to demand their release, particularly as COVID-19 spreads unchecked throughout the Iranian prison system.

Nasrin is a prominent member of Iran’s Bar Association, a loving mother and wife, and a true heroine in the line of Persian women fighting for justice and freedom – but she does not fight alone. Her story is just one thread in the regime’s tapestry of unjust imprisonment, and an important looking glass into Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Iran, where the rule of law has become the law of repression.

Today, Iran’s judicial system remains among the most brutal and least just in the world. Iran violates the human rights of its citizens on a routine, if not daily, basis and is part of the regime’s long history of arresting, detaining, imprisoning, and often executing them for “crimes” often committed merely by exercising fundamental freedoms.

Many of these offenses are vaguely defined and can thus be exploited for arbitrary detention and punishment. Such crimes include “propaganda against the state,” insulting government officials, and women appearing in public with no or insufficient head covering.

The cruelty and inhumanity of Iran’s system of punishment goes well beyond executions, however. Individuals may be arrested and indefinitely detained without charge or on trumped-up offenses; subject to degrading treatment, including torture, in order to extract confessions; denied rights such as access to legal counsel and fair and speedy trial; and incarcerated in overcrowded prisons where they are subject to torture, rape, and other atrocities.

While Nasrin battles for her health, her husband, Reza Khandan, fights in an inexorable battle against a corrupt system of injustice for his beloved to return home. For Nasrin and the Iranian men and women from all walks of life similarly unjustly imprisoned, we have a responsibility to lift their voices when they cannot speak themselves, and to demand their release.

Khandan wants, as so often said in Iranian poetry, to bring the “Rose and Nightingale” together again. This can only happen if there is a concerted effort by all people, including the American people, in calling for the freedom of Nasrin Sotoudeh right now.

Please view the secreted film Nasrin, streaming on the GlobalDocs film Festival. You will see Nasrin’s humanity and fall in love with a beautiful soul of an Iranian woman, suffering under the weight of a demonic system.

Barry Rosen was the last press attaché in Iran and was one of the 52 American diplomats, military officers, Marine guards, and civilians held hostage from November 4, 1979 until January 20, 1981. He is a member of the Advisory Board of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).