UK barristers urge Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt to call on Iran to immediately release human rights lawyer

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The Bar Council and the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales have sent a public letter to the UK Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt urging him to take action in support of Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. Sotoudeh was sentenced to 38 years imprisonment and 148 lashes for undertaking her professional obligations to her clients by enabling them to exercise the basic human right of access to justice.

Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested at her home on 13 June 2018. This week, she was informed that she had been convicted on seven charges in response to her peaceful human rights work, including “inciting corruption and prostitution”, “openly committing a sinful act by… appearing in public without a hijab” and “disrupting public order”.

The letter highlights that the persecution of Nasrin Sotoudeh is not an isolated incident in Iran, with widespread reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions of lawyers and human rights defenders in 2018; however, it is one of the harshest punishments documented against a human rights defender in Iran in recent years, suggesting that the authorities are adopting measures against lawyers which flagrantly breach Iran’s international obligations.

In particular, the Bar Council and BHRC considered the sentence of Sotoudeh and the arbitrary arrest and detention of many human rights defenders, including lawyers and activists, as well as journalists to be in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a party, and in breach of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

Schona Jolly QC, Chair of BHRC said:

“This case represents a serious increase in repressive conduct by the Iranian authorities designed to intimidate and punish lawyers for lawful practice and prevent access to legal representation for women exercising their right to peaceful protest. Lawyers play a crucial role in protecting the civil rights of all those subject to the law. When a lawyer is punished for representing a client, the client’s right to access to justice and a fair trial is denied and the rule of law itself is undermined.

On the basis of the reports available to us, the arrest, detention charges and sentence appear arbitrary, manifestly excessive and designed to make an example out of her and her work as a human rights defender. Iran has a duty to ensure that lawyers are able to carry out their professional functions without intimidation, harassment or interference. The sequence of events, the severity of the sentence and the surrounding context of a wider clampdown represent a grave threat to the rule of law.”

Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar, said:

“Locking up lawyers in prison for longer than most murderers and sentencing them to 148 lashes simply for doing their job sends a clear message to the world that Iran does not respect the rule of law or even its own justice system. Governments may not always agree with the work of human rights defenders but, imprisoning them for their work, weakens the credibility of any regime as a whole. Jurisdictions which do give weight to the rule of law, including the UK, should do all they can to ensure other nations stick to the basic principles of justice and intervene to condemn the regime in cases such as Nasrin Sotoudeh’s.”

You can read the full letter here.

You can read the response from the Minister of State, Mark Field MP here. 

You can read the coverage by the Times here.

The Bar Council and BHRC wrote in January 2018 to His Excellency, the Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei concerning the fate of Abdolfattah Soltani and Narges Mohammadi, prominent Iranian lawyers imprisoned for 13 years and 6 years respectively in relation to their work advocating for the rule of law in Iran. You can read the previous letter here.


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