Shirin Ebadi Points Out the Obvious

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 16, 2011

Once again, we see that the regime in Iran is not worthy of its people:

This week Iran’s judicial authorities sentenced my friend Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer, to 11 years in prison. Her case has attracted only modest attention in the West, but it is the latest example of Iran’s unrelenting crackdown on dissent. It deserves greater notice.

Nasrin belongs to a younger generation of Iranian human rights defenders who are being systematically bullied by the state into abandoning their work. The government has forced many into exile abroad, while meting out harsh prison sentences to others, like Nasrin, in order to intimidate the remaining few.

The court imprisoned Nasrin—and barred her from practicing law or leaving the country for 20 years—after finding her guilty of “acting against national security” and of “propaganda against the regime.” Iran’s government routinely levels these charges against lawyers, journalists, nongovernmental organization workers and others whose work it finds troublesome. Nasrin’s only crime has been her passionate defense of Iran’s most legally vulnerable citizens: juvenile offenders facing the death penalty, human rights campaigners, and prisoners of conscience.

I first met Nasrin almost 20 years ago, as she was finishing her law degree. Her steely determination was striking. She defended a number of cases for the Committee to Defend Children, an institute I had founded that offered pro bono legal representation to juvenile offenders. Years later she also sought the help of another group I had formed, the Defenders of Human Rights Center. We provided free legal counsel to Iranians accused of political crimes or crimes of conscience, and in some circumstances we extended financial help to families of political prisoners.

One of my most vivid memories of Nasrin harks back to an evening in 2007, just before the birth of her second child, Nima. A number of us were meeting at a private home to discuss women’s rights in Iran, when a sharp knock at the door interrupted our conversation. Uniformed police burst into the room and detained a number of the women present.

One of the police officers told Nasrin that they had no intention of detaining her, so she was free to go home. “I’m not going anywhere,” she told them, all the while protesting loudly at the arrests. “My friends who you’re taking away are my clients, and they’re going to need me.”

Eight months pregnant, she spent the night in a cold cell at the police station with her new clients and defended them the next morning like a lioness. She managed to secure their release that very day.

In a sane world, the likes of Nasrin Sotoudeh should be lauded, not jailed. But we do not live in a sane world.

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