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Alarm after prize-winning Iran lawyer returns to jail

Published on January 22, 2021

French lawyers’ associations on Friday expressed alarm over the continued detention of Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, after the prize-winning campaigner had to return to jail outside Tehran following a brief medical leave.

Sotoudeh, a winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize and a 2020 laureate of the Right Livelihood prize, is serving a 12-year-jail term on charges rejected as absurd by supporters.

Her husband Reza Khandan wrote on his social media channels that she had been allowed out of jail for medical leave on January 8 but then returned to Qarchak women’s prison on January 20.

While on medical leave she had an angiography for a heart condition in Tehran, he added.

She had also been granted a leave of less than a month in late 2020 but was afterwards also returned to jail.

In a joint statement, all six lawyers’ associations in France said Sotoudeh had been returned to jail “under conditions that do not allow her full recovery.”

They urged Iran “to end all persecutions against lawyers, to release them without delay and unconditionally and, at the very least, to assure them conditions of detention that are dignified and respect Iran’s international commitments.”

Echoing activists’ concerns over the conditions at Qarchak jail, it added she was serving her sentence “in an overcrowded and unsanitary institution, despite serious health problems directly putting her life in danger.”

Lawyer and activist Sotoudeh was jailed in 2018 after defending a woman arrested for protesting against the requirement for Iranian women to wear the hijab.

She was told at the time that she had been sentenced to five years in prison in absentia for spying, according to her lawyers.

She also tested positive for Covid-19 after her previous release.

There has been growing international concern about the situation of Sotoudeh, who has shown no fear in taking on the most sensitive cases — including women who refused to wear the hijab and young men sentenced to death for crimes committed while minors.

A major new documentary about her work “Nasrin” directed by American filmmaker Jeff Kaufman — which was partly shot in secret inside Iran — has also sought to increase awareness of her plight.