Iran: Abdolfattah Soltani released while other human rights defenders continue to suffer in prison for defending women’s rights

06.12.18

Photo: Abdolfattah Soltani with his family, including daughter Homa (at right), who passed away in August.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) welcomes the news that human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani was released from prison last month, but expresses concern that other human rights defenders are suffering in prison for defending women’s rights. They include Dr. Farhad Meysami, who is on hunger strike, and Nasrin Sotoudeh, who faces a new charge on top of the ones that led to her current five-year sentence, including for defending the right of women not to wear compulsory hijab.

Once again, Sotoudeh has raised the alarm about the well-being of her fellow human rights defenders in prison. According to human rights lawyer Mohammad Moghimi, in a Facebook post on 03 December 2018, Sotoudeh has published a letter from Evin Prison saying Meysami’s life is in danger.

Sotoudeh writes, “For more than four months, Dr Farhad Meysami 's hunger strike has taken place. His crime is to protect the girls of Enghelab [Revolution] Street and his charge is encouraging corruption and prostitution. The charge was allegedly due to the production and distribution of badges stating “No to compulsory hijab,” which could lead to 10 years’ imprisonment.”

Sotoudeh continues, “Now he is on hunger strike for supporting the demands of women in his country and in protest of their unfair detention as well as that of my spouse, Reza Khandan. What I know is that the life of Farhad is seriously at stake and I call on all supporters to do whatever they can to save the life of this educated citizen. Farhad has been involved for many years, through his beliefs and writing, in civic action with the most admirable honesty, making him a national treasure for all Iranians. So, I urge all human rights defenders, civil society activists and the legal community to use their capacity to release dear Farhad.”

Since December 2017, dozens of women have been arrested for removing their hijab during regular protest campaigns under hashtags including #mystealthyfreedom, #whitewednesdays, #girlsofenghelabstreet and #mycameraismyweapon. Numerous human rights defenders and lawyers have since been arrested in connection with the protests. On 15 August 2018, Sotoudeh was sentenced to five years in prison on several charges, including for defending women who refused to wear hijab and “organising protest rallies”. See more at: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1945

Meysami (pictured above left with Sotoudeh), a doctor and human rights defender, was arrested on 31 July 2018 for wearing a badge that says “I am against forced hijab.” His arrest is linked to a raid on Sotoudeh’s house.

On 26 November, Sotoudeh went on hunger strike again to protest the lack of hospital treatment for Meysami. She previously undertook a hunger strike on 25 August 2018 to protest poor treatment of family and friends since her arrest on 13 June.

Sotoudeh has now been charged with receiving money when she won the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2012, despite the fact that she was in prison at the time and didn’t receive the award nor the money. She has not been able to leave Iran since her release from a previous prison sentence in 2016.

Sotoudeh has reportedly refused to appear in court on any of the charges, because she has not been able to choose her own lawyer. She has also lodged a protest against the authorities for preventing her from seeing her children for the past two months because she allegedly wears hijab “improperly”.

On 04 September 2018, Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan was arrested on charges related to the hijab protests, specifically “assembly and collusion against national security, propaganda against the system, and spreading and promoting [the wearing] of no hijab in society.” Khandan rejected a bail of 700 million Iranian Toman (USD$16,630), and is being held in Evin prison.

On 21 November 2018, Abdolfattah Soltani was released from Evin Prison on “conditional release” after serving more than half his 13-year prison sentence, as required by the law. However, it means that if he is charged with any other offences, he would have to return to prison to serve the remainder of the sentence. Saeed Dehghan, Soltani’s lawyer, reported that the case was heard in Branch 54 of the Revolutionary Court's Appeals Court, where the Prosecutor agreed to the conditional release.

Soltani, a lawyer and founding member of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC), was sentenced on 13 June 2012 to 13 years in prison on various charges, including “propaganda against the system” and “assembly and collusion against national security”. He has undertaken repeated hunger strikes to protest his prison conditions and his sentence, which was handed down following an unfair trial. The last one was in March 2018.

Sadly, Soltani had returned to prison on 28 October after having been given 85 days leave on 04 August 2018, the day after his daughter Homa Soltani’s untimely death. "While we welcome the release of Dr. Soltani, we share with him the sadness of losing a lively and honest daughter," said GCHR Executive Director Khalid Ibrahim. “And we call for the release of all human rights defenders who are arbitrarily detained in prison.”

GCHR urges the authorities in Iran to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Nasrin Sotoudeh, Reza Khandan and Dr. Farhad Meysami, and drop all charges against them, as well as unconditionally overturning the prison sentences against Sotoudeh and Abdolfattah Soltani;
  2. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Dr. Farhad Meysami and Nasrin Sotoudeh while in prison, including ensuring they receive the medical attention needed during a hunger strike;
  3. Release all detained human rights defenders and provide them with a safe civic space in which to conduct their work;
  4. Stop arbitrarily arresting and intimidating human rights defenders as a result of their participation in peaceful human rights activities; and
  5. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Iran are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.