UN rights chief warns of new 'crackdown' in Iran

23rd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

The UN human rights chief on Tuesday expressed concern about a new "crackdown" on lawyers and human rights defenders in Iran, including an attorney for a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, also highlighted the case of lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who staged a hunger strike for several weeks after her arrest on September 4, as well as several other people associated with exiled Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Sotoudeh was reportedly being held in solitary confinement in Tehran's notorious Evin prison and appeared in court on November 15, according to Pillay's office.

"I am very concerned that Nasrin Sotoudeh's case is part of a much broader crackdown, and that the situation of human rights defenders in Iran is growing more and more difficult," Pillay said in a statement.

"I urge the Iranian authorities to review her case urgently and expedite her release."

A spokesman for the High Commissioner, Rupert Colville, said that other cases included a defence lawyer for Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, whose pending death sentence by stoning sparked international outrage.

The attorney, Javid Houtan Kiyan, was arrested on October 10 "for charges that appear not to be particularly relevant to him," the spokesman added.

Colville told AFP that conditions for people dealing with human rights in Iran were becoming much more restrictive.

"Since last year's election the pressure on them has increased and it has really become much more intense in recent months," he explained.

The UN rights office also cited detentions of several other people associated with the Centre for Human Rights Defenders, founded by Ebadi, including Mohamad Saifzadeh, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for "forming an association whose aim is to harm national security."

Five lawyers were also arrested in Tehran on security charges on November 13, although two were reportedly released afterwards, the UN added.

The head of Iran's High Human Rights Council said in an interview aired on Monday that there was a "good chance" that Mohammadi-Ashtiani's life would be spared.

© 2010 AFP

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