Nasrin Sotoudeh is an Iranian human rights lawyer. Raised in a middle-class Tehran family, Sotoudeh came to activism young. She first worked as a journalist for reformist newspapers; in 2003, when she received her law license, she joined the Center for the Defence of Human Rights, which offered pro bono representation to political prisoners, and the Society for the Protection of the Rights of Children.
Although it is illegal under international law to execute those under 18, some 73 children have been put to death in Iran between 2005 and 2015, Sotoudeh has represented many minors on death row, and has actively campaigned against the death penalty in general. She has also represented women arrested for appearing in public without a hijab, which is a punishable offence in Iran. Her clients have included journalist Isa Saharkhiz, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, and Heshmat Tabarzadi, the head of the banned opposition group Democratic Front of Iran (Martin Ennals Award).
Sotoudeh was a signatory to the Campaign for One Million Signatures, which called for the elimination of laws discriminating against women, and defended many of its members when they were arrested. She stood up as well for those arrested in a state crackdown after Iran’s disputed 2009 election that brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power, after electoral irregularities brought millions of Iranians out in protest (Nobel Women’s Initiative).
On 9 January 2011, Iranian authorities sentenced Sotoudeh to 11 years in jail for charges that include ‘activities against national security’ and ‘propaganda against the regime.’ Additionally, she has been barred from practising law and from leaving the country for 20 years. In mid-September 2011, an appeals court reduced Nasrin Sotoudeh’s prison sentence to six years; her ban from working as a lawyer was reduced to ten years. She was released in 2013. On 13 June 2018, Nasrin Sotoudeh started a second term in prison. She was given a five-year imprisonment for ‘acting against national security’.
Despite global condemnation and calls for her release, Sotoudeh remains in jail. In late September, the Center for Human Rights in Iran published Nasrin’s letter to her 12-year-old son, explaining why she couldn’t be with him for the first day of school: ‘How could I witness the execution of juveniles in my country and be silent? How could I close my eyes to child abuse cases?… I just couldn’t, my son’ (Martin Ennals Award).