After two trials described by Amnesty International as “grossly unfair,” Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been sentenced to a total of 38 years in prison and 148 lashes.
Sotoudeh, who has dedicated her life to defending Iranian women prosecuted for removing their hijabs in public, has been in the crosshairs of Iran’s theocratic government for years. In 2010, she was convicted of conspiring to harm state security and served half of a six-year sentence. Then, in June of last year, she was rearrested on an array of dubious charges. Tried in secret, details of her ordeal have often come via her husband, Reza Khandan, who wrote of her new, much harsher sentence on his Facebook page on Monday.
Sotoudeh was ultimately charged with seven crimes and given the maximum sentence for all of them. Five additional years were added from a 2016 case in which she was convicted in absentia. The total 38-year sentence was severe even by Iranian standards — a country often accused of human rights abuses, particularly involving women. Observers say it may signal a newly hardline approach to political dissent. Last week, a radical cleric linked to mass executions in the 1980s was appointed head of the Islamic Republic’s judiciary.
Critics from around the world decried the outcome of Sotoudeh’s case. Amnesty International said it was harshest sentence documented against a human rights defender in Iran in recent memory. Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, told CBS News it exposed “the insecurity the regime has to any peaceful challenge.”
The same day Sotoudeh was sentenced, the UN investigator on human rights in Iran held up her case as a sign of the country’s increasingly brutal oppression of those who defend the rights of women. “Worrying patterns of intimidation, arrest, prosecution, and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, lawyers, and labor rights activists signal an increasingly severe state response,” he said.