Last updated: 18 September, 2013

Nasrin Sotoudeh, Iranian defender of human rights

Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, freed Wednesday after three years in prison, is a leading Iranian defender of human rights who was jailed for her work with Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Hailing from a religious middle class family, the mother of two was among the few lawyers to take on high profile human rights and political cases in Iran before her arrest in 2010.

She told AFP by phone from her home shortly after her release that she was in good physical and psychological condition and promised to “definitely” continue her human rights work.

In January 2011, Sotoudeh was given an 11-year prison term and handed a 20-year ban from practising law for “acting against national security and propaganda against the regime.”

The two charges are frequently used by the judiciary in the Islamic republic to convict opponents.

She was also sentenced for her membership in the Centre for Human Rights Defenders founded by Ebadi, who turned became a nemesis of the Iranian regime and now lives in exile.

Last year, Sotoudeh won the European parliament’s prestigious Sakharov rights prize amid outrage from the Tehran government.

After studying law at Shahid Beheshti University in the capital, Sotoudeh fought for several years for the right to practise as a lawyer in the late 1990s.

She began her career by concentrating on the rights of youths sentenced to death for crimes committed as minors, one of many judicial practices in Iran regularly condemned by international humanitarian organisations and the UN.

But from 2009, Sotoudeh defended many opponents of the government, hundreds of whom were rounded up for protesting against the disputed re-election of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

She was the lawyer of several figures, ranging from journalist Issa Saharkhiz, close to then reformist opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, to many demonstrators who took to the streets after the election.

She also defended Ebadi and other members of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders, including fellow lawyers who paid a heavy price for their work.

Two co-founders of the organisation, Abdolfattah Soltani and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, were sentenced earlier this year to 18 and 19 years imprisonment respectively.

Sotoudeh also drew the wrath of the regime for the interviews she gave to Western media outlets after the crackdown in 2009, which figured in the charges against her in her own trial.

Jailed at the notorious Evin prison in northern Tehran, she staged two hunger strikes to protest at the conditions there and a ban on seeing her three-year-old son and daughter, 11.

Her husband Reza Khandan has vigorously stood behind her, triggering lawsuits by the regime, according to Amnesty International.

“She talked about the cases she was handling and informed the public sometimes of the flaws in the case. She did not insult anybody and never said anything harsh. This is not a crime,” Khandan told AFP in January 2011.

“Where in the world do they jail a mother for giving a couple of interviews?” asked Khandan who said he found the sentence “totally shocking.”

Following her arrest and conviction — reduced on appeal in September 2011 to six years in prison, according to Amnesty International — Sotoudeh was described as a prisoner of conscience by the human rights organisation.