Iran: Nasrin Sotoudeh returned to prison on eve of Right Livelihood award


05 December 2020

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is appalled to learn that prominent Iranian women’s rights defender and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was returned to prison while she is weak and ill from the effects of COVID-19 and a hunger strike protest. The authorities cruelly returned her to prison on the eve of the Right Livelihood Awards, for which she is one of four laureates in 2020.

On 02 December 2020, Sotoudeh was returned to Qarchak prison, from which she had been freed temporarily on medical leave on 07 November 2020. Sotoudeh was released from Qarchak prison, where there has been a COVID-19 outbreak, in order to receive proper medical treatment for several health issues. However, she tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving home, so was not able to receive any medical treatment. She was in quarantine so was also not able to hug her children. Her husband also contracted COVID-19.

Sotoudeh needed treatment for the effects of hunger strikes, the latest of which she undertook from 11 August to 26 September 2020 to call for the release of activists and human rights defenders whose health was at risk due to the pandemic’s spread in prison. Since the pandemic began, Iran has released only a few human rights defenders, usually temporarily. Only woman human rights defender Narges Mohammadi was released permanently from prison on 08 October 2020 after a 10-year sentence was commuted due to health concerns.

As GCHR previously reported in September, Sotoudeh’s health suffered greatly and she lost a lot of weight from her hunger strike. The hunger strike caused serious heart problems, leading to hospitalisation.

During the Right Livelihood ceremony, an audio recording of Sotoudeh’s speech was played while photos of her at home were shown. She said that all the protest actions supporting her around the world were very meaningful and winning the award "provided me and my family with renewed energy to carry on my path." She continued, "Such unprecedented global support makes it unnecessary for me to explain to my children why it is that their mother has been in prison since they were very young."

Sotoudeh had been in prison since her arrest on 13 June 2018, but had been in and out of prison since 2010. On 11 March 2019, she was sentenced to combined penalties of 148 lashes and 38 years in prison, in two cases related to her work against the death penalty, and in support of the movement against the compulsory hijab.

In an apparent reprisal against Sotoudeh’s hunger strike, on 18 August 2020, her daughter, Mehraveh Khandan, was arrested and charged with physically assaulting a female security officer at Evin Prison. That case is ongoing while Khandan remains free on bail.

Her friend and colleague Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel laureate, also recorded a video for the ceremony, which can be watched at Sotoudeh was honoured as a 2020 Right Livelihood Laureate "for her fearless activism, at great personal risk, to promote political freedoms and human rights in Iran."

GCHR joins the thousands of people and organisations, including European Union officials and United Nations experts who #StandUp4Nasrin and call for her unconditional and permanent release! #FreeNasrin