Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Iran lawyer convicted after defending women protesters

Conviction of Nasrin Sotoudeh underlines dangers of challenging Iran's theocracy

Nasrin Sotoudeh, who previously served three years in jail, was accused of ‘encouraging corruption and prostitution’ AFP
Nasrin Sotoudeh, who previously served three years in jail, was accused of ‘encouraging corruption and prostitution’ AFP

A human rights lawyer in Iran who defended people that protested against laws that insist women wear the hijab has been prosecuted and faces years in prison.

The conviction of Nasrin Sotoudeh, who previously served three years in jail for her work, underlines the dangers of challenging Iran’s theocracy as it faces economic pressure from sanctions.

It also highlights the limitations faced by Iran’s civilian government as President Hassan Rouhani signalled an easing of their concern over the mandatory hijab rules.

Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran said Ms Sotoudeh’s trial and conviction showed “the insecurity the regime has to any peaceful challenge”.

“It knows a large segment of the country is fed up with the hijab laws,” Mr Ghaemi said.

Ms Sotoudeh was convicted in her absence when she refused to attend the trial before Tehran’s Revolutionary Court because she was unable to select her own lawyers, Mr Ghaemi said.

The Revolutionary Court conducts closed-door hearings in cases of alleged threats to Iran’s government.

The charges range from her membership of a human rights group to “encouraging corruption and prostitution”. This suggests her detention in part relates to her defence of women who protested against the mandatory wearing of the hijab.

Ms Sotoudeh's conviction was not immediately reported by Iranian state-run media. Iran's mission to the UN did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The Centre for Human Rights in Iran relied on information about Ms Sotoudeh’s case provided by her husband Reza Khandan, who separately faces a six-year prison sentence for providing updates on her case on Facebook, Mr Ghaemi said.

Ms Sotoudeh received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Union in 2012. Her previous clients include Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi.

One of Ms Sotoudeh’s clients in the hijab protests received a 20-year prison sentence.

Mr Ghaemi said he believes Iran’s theocracy connects the hijab protests to the nationwide economic demonstrations about the end of 2017 and the beginning of last year.

“It is part of the same pattern of wanting to put an end to any peaceful protest on the street,” he said.

The hijab and chador – the all-encompassing robe for women – have long been part of culture in the region.

They became political symbols in 1936, when Iran’s pro-West ruler, Reza Shah Pahlavi, banned the garments in efforts to rapidly modernise Iran. The ban became a source of humiliation for some Muslim women.

The hijab later became mandatory for all women in Iran.

In Tehran today, some young women wear tighter clothes with a scarf loosely covering their heads, technically meeting the requirements of the law yet still drawing the anger of conservatives.

In December 2017, Tehran’s police said they would no longer arrest women for not observing the Islamic dress code as video clips of women walking the streets with their heads uncovered spread on social media.

Protests followed, including a much-circulated image of a woman on top of a junction box at an intersection of Tehran's famed Enghelab, or Revolution, Street, waving her white hijab as if it was a flag.

Updated: March 6, 2019 06:44 PM

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