Banning Imprisoned Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh From Seeing Her Children is Cruel and Unlawful

Prominent Rights Defender Illegally Denied Family Visits For Alleged “Improper Hijab” 

November 15, 2018 – Imprisoned defense attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh has sued Iranian authorities for banning her from seeing her children and other family in Evin Prison for the past two months under the pretext of her alleged “improper hijab.”

“First the Iranian authorities imprisoned Sotoudeh for defending human rights and now they’re harassing her in jail by taking away the few rights she has left, including visits with her children,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“The Iranian judiciary should put an end to the cruel and inhumane act of banning political prisoners from seeing their families and immediately release Sotoudeh,” said Ghaemi.

According to Iran’s State Prisons Procedures, weekly visits with family members are a right to which all prisoners are entitled, not a privilege. But CHRI has documented multiple instances wherein political prisoners, including the mothers of small children, have been banned from seeing their families or talking to them on the phone.

In 2016, prominent human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who remains in Evin Prison, went on a debilitating hunger strike to compel the authorities to allow her to speak to her children on the phone.

Fellow political prisoner Maryam Akbari-Monfared has also been repeatedly threatened with being banned from visits with her children, a tactic used to intimidate prisoners into keeping silent about their cases and prison conditions.

Denying Sotoudeh visits with her son and daughter (12 and 18-years-old) is particularly cruel given that her husband, Reza Khandan, has also been detained in Evin Prison since October 2018 after he posted several updates about her case on Facebook, effectively leaving their children orphaned.

According to one of Sotoudeh’s lawyers, the Court for Government Employees (where her lawsuit was initially filed) agreed to consider her complaint against the prison’s warden, Ali Chaharmahali, and its judicial representative, Hamid Hamidi-Rad, for imposing the ban. The case has now been referred to Branch 1 of the Bureau of Investigations.

On September 17, 2018, Chaharmahali sent a letter to the head of Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward stating, “Based on a judicial order issued by the Tehran Prosecutor [Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi], Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh should be notified that she is required to follow the prison’s internal rules, notably in relation to observing the hijab. Therefore, if she follows the rules, she can have family visits. Otherwise, she will be denied.”

A copy of the letter was obtained by CHRI.

Sharia law does not require women to cover themselves in the presence of other women, raising questions about why Sotoudeh is being punished for allegedly not observing the hijab in the female-only ward of Evin Prison.

“It is evident that the order to ban someone from visitation is a form of punishment that is seriously questionable,” said Sotoudeh’s lawsuit, parts of which were posted on Instagram by her lawyer, Payam Derafshan. “There are no regulations banning prison visits between mothers and their children because it is essentially inhuman.”

“Such a ban is not only extremely harmful psychologically, it also seriously undermines the reputation of the country’s judicial system in the eyes of the world,” it added.

The lawsuit argues Chaharmahali and Hamidi-Rad violated articles 570 and 579 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code by stripping Sotoudeh of her right to see her two children.

Article 570 states: “Any official and agent associated with state agencies and institutions who unlawfully strips members of the public of their personal freedom or deprives them of their rights provided in the IRI Constitution shall be sentenced to two months to three years’ imprisonment, in addition to dismissal from the service and prohibition of employment in state offices for one to five years.”

And according to Article 579: “If a civil servant punishes a convicted person harsher than what was ordered in the verdict or punishes him to what is not ordered in the verdict, he shall be sentenced to six months to three years’ imprisonment; and if the act is carried out pursuant to someone else’s order, only the person who has issued the order shall be sentenced to the prescribed punishment.”

Sotoudeh has been detained since June 13, 2018, after security agents unexpectedly appeared at her home and took her to Evin Prison in Tehran. Once inside the prison, Sotoudeh learned she would be serving a five-year prison sentence issued to her in absentia by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh in 2015 and that she was facing multiple other charges.

In October 2018, Sotoudeh sued Moghiseh for unlawfully sentencing her.

One of Iran’s most prominent human rights defenders, Sotoudeh is facing two national security chargesfor legally representing women who have been charged for peacefully protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law by removing their headscarves in public.

From 2010-13, she served three years in Evin Prison for peacefully practicing her legal profession. In September 2018, she was awarded the prestigious Ludovic Trarieux Human Rights Prize for her commitment to human rights and the independence of the legal profession. Sotoudeh was also awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2012.

In July 2018, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) sent a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calling for Sotoudeh’s immediate release.

She is among at least six human rights attorneys who are currently behind bars in Iran.

“Sotoudeh is simply defending the rule of law in a political climate where citizens’ rights are trampled by the judiciary and security agencies,” said Ghaemi.

“Iran’s ongoing imprisonment and harassment of defense attorneys and their clients is outrageous and unlawful and should be forcefully condemned by the international community,” he added.