Health of Iranian Activist Hunger Striker Deteriorating
Nasrin Sotoudeh has been on hunger strike for two weeks, protesting condition of Iran prisons amid pandemic
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(New York, NY) — Nasrin Sotoudeh, a renowned Iranian writer, human rights lawyer, and activist, is reportedly in critical condition after being on hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin prison for over two weeks. PEN America today calls for her and other political prisoners’ immediate release and for an end to judicial and legal harassment of her and her family.
“We are heartbroken to see Nasrin’s health deteriorate day by day while imprisoned on unjust charges in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison,” said PEN America’s Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs Karin Deutsch Karlekar. “Nasrin has spent her life advocating for the human rights of Iranians, particularly women. On August 11, she started her second hunger strike this year to protest the maltreatment of Iranian political prisoners vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged the country’s prisons. She is now facing the direst of consequences for her activism and expression. Her life hangs in the balance. We call on the government of Iran to rescind the unjust sentences meted out to Nasrin and other political prisoners. In addition, we call on the authorities to drop all charges against Nasrin’s daughter, and to end the judicial, financial, and legal harassment of both her and her family.”
Iranian officials have retaliated against Sotoudeh and her family for her continued activism from prison. In March, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sotoudeh started her first hunger strike to protest the continued and unjust detention of political prisoners in Iran. That same month, she made a public appeal in Time magazine arguing that Iranian authorities are keeping these prisoners incarcerated until the “horrors of this health crisis spread to their lives and impact their families, as well.” In July, Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan reported that the Iranian prosecutors had frozen their family’s bank accounts since May. On August 17, just six days after Sotoudeh announced her hunger strike, state security officers arrested her daughter, in what Khandan said is retaliation for Sotoudeh’s activism from prison. Their daughter was later released on bail but faces charges of assaulting a prison guard.
The right to free expression is routinely restricted and severely punished in Iran, and authorities regularly employ a wide range of tactics to silence dissidents. PEN America’s inaugural Freedom to Write Index found that Iran ranked fourth worldwide in terms of the number of writers and public intellectuals in jail in 2019, with 14 behind bars during the year.
Nasrin Sotoudeh was imprisoned from 2010 to 2013 on trumped-up national security charges. During that time, she was honored with PEN America’s 2011 Freedom to Write Award, as well as the European Parliament’s 2012 Sakharov Prize. She was arrested again in June 2018 on ambiguous charges; five months into her sentence, she faced spurious charges under a range of laws, including “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” “appearing at the judiciary without Islamic hijab,” “encouraging prostitution,” and “promoting immorality and indecency,” bringing her total sentence to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes.