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Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh on the State of Human Rights in Iran

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Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian lawyer and human rights activist, was jailed in Iran from 2010 to 2013 for the charge of “acting against national security”. During her imprisonment, she went on several hunger strikes to force the authorities to accept her legitimate demands.

Her second hunger strike, which lasted 49 days, was aimed at lifting a travel ban against her 11-year-old daughter. In the end, a number of MPs visited her in prison and her demand was met, ending her hunger strike.

When Hassan Rohani was elected president in 2013, Sotoudeh was released before the end of her prison term without any warning. Along with the release of a number of other political prisoners, that was seen as a sign that Iran was prepared to improve the state of human rights in the country.

Sometime after her release, it was announced that the Lawyers' Disciplinary Tribunal had suspended Sotoudeh’s licence to practice law.

Every day since then, Sotoudeh has showed up in front of the Iranian Bar Association offices to protest the ruling that suspended her licence.

In an interview with Nasrin Sotoudeh, Radio Zamaneh explored the charges against her and the state of human rights in Iran.

Q: Was your early release a sign of the government’s determination to improve the human rights situation in Iran?
A: It could have been interpreted in this manner. I did indeed think so at the time. Unfortunately, the trend of releasing prisoners has stopped, and instead we've had more arrests and more harsh sentencing.
It should be pointed out here that Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani’s house, which was put up for bail, has been confiscated for more than four months. The authorities refuse to grant him leave, and this is the second time this has happened. When I look at these incidents together, I have to conclude that there are no promising prospects for the release of other political prisoners.

Q: What is the situation regarding your licence to practice law?
A: The Lawyers' Disciplinary court is part of the Bar Association. When there is a charge against a lawyer in any court, the prosecutor will inform the Lawyers' Disciplinary Court and the file will then be sent to one of the branches of the Disciplinary Court. My case was sent to a branch of the Disciplinary Court, and it ruled against the suspension of my licence. Then it was sent to another branch, which decided to suspend my licence for three years. When a lawyer is indicted, the prosecutor can inform the Disciplinary Court and put in a request for the suspension of that lawyer’s licence.

Q: So your licence is currently suspended?
A: Usually once the court issues a decision, the prosecutor forwards it to the Bar Association and demands the suspension of his or her licence. In my case, the prosecutor sent the indictment to one branch of the Disciplinary Court and the request for suspension was turned down. Then the court issued a decision; it should have been sent to the same branch. This is what happened; however, there were some differences of opinion between the first branch of the court and the board members of the Bar Association, so finally the board intervened in the matter and forwarded the file to the Second Branch of the Disciplinary Court. They issued a sentence suspending my licence for three years.

Q: What is your assessment of the reactions to this ruling? Could this become a trend?
A: This can in no way become a trend. This ruling has generated widespread protest in the legal community. There has been tons of correspondence between lawyers, the Board and the Second Branch of the Disciplinary Court expressing their concern regarding this ruling. There are so many problematic legal issues with this ruling that none of the Board of Directors can actually give it their seal of approval. It has no grounds to make it a trend. A decision made in such a rush and with so many irregularities cannot become the basis of other similar rulings.

Q: How do you see the state of human rights in Iran?
A: My first thought is that the country’s current security-laden atmosphere needs to change. The elected government needs to put everything it has into ending this security-laden atmosphere. There are a number of experts in this matter among the political prisoners. The government should release all political prisoners and begin talks with experts in the area.

Q: Do you think the changes have to be initiated by the government or the judiciary?
A: This is a good question. During their imprisonment, political prisoners repeatedly had the experience where they asked for furloughs or medical leave and they were told that their interrogator had to approve the request. This is after the investigations had finished and a court had been established, which had issued a sentence and the individual was in the course serving it out. When Mr. Rohani’s government took power, and in view of the statements uttered by the Minister of Intelligence before Parliament’s vote of confidence, it appeared the Intelligence Ministry would take on a wiser approach: end the security approach and deal more rationally with people’s demands. Currently it is said that the judiciary is constantly seeking the advice of the Ministry of Intelligence before issuing decisions. This completely erodes the independence of the judiciary. We hope that the judiciary ends its absolute reliance on the Ministry of Intelligence and begins to take its decisions based on the documents and evidence presented to it in court proceedings.