(New York, NY) — PEN America welcomes the release of Nasrin Sotoudeh—lawyer, women’s rights activist, and PEN America’s 2011 Freedom To Write Award honoree—on a temporary medical furlough on Saturday from the notorious Qarchak prison in Iran. She has reunited with her family after more than two years behind bars, and is in critical condition due to health issues caused by her extended hunger strike in August and medical negligence by authorities. After being exposed to prison guards with COVID-19, Sotoudeh’s husband reported that she tested positive for COVID-19 Tuesday.

“We’re deeply relieved that Nasrin has been temporarily released to receive urgent medical care,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America’s Free Expression at Risk Programs. “However, she is still subject to an unjust 38-year prison sentence steeped in political motivations, when all she has done is fight selflessly for the fundamental freedoms of others. Nasrin has put her life on the line with an extended hunger strike, and as we have feared could happen for months, she has now contracted COVID-19 while behind bars, as have other political prisoners. We call on Iranian authorities to drop the charges against Nasrin, to allow her full access to the medical care necessary to treat her heart condition and COVID-19, and to honor the goal of her hunger strike by releasing other political prisoners still at risk in Iran’s prisons.” 

In August 2020, Sotoudeh began a 46-day hunger strike at Evin prison to protest the abysmal circumstances of fellow prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her health greatly deteriorated, resulting in a critical heart condition and other issues, and she was forced to end her hunger strike. Briefly admitted to Taleghani hospital’s cardiac unit, she was immediately returned to Evin prison and then transferred under false pretenses to Qarchak prison for women.

Sotoudeh is a crucial voice of conscience in Iran and a face at the heart of Iran’s women’s movement against the compulsory hijab law. She was arrested in 2018 and initially sentenced to 38 years of imprisonment and 148 lashes to punish her activism and determination to fight for women’s rights. She was PEN America’s 2011 Freedom to Write honoree, a recipient of the EU’s prestigious Sakharov Prize in 2012, and most recently, a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award for her efforts.

In August, PEN America initiated a petition to President Rouhani to release Nasrin signed by more than 6,400 people, including prominent individuals such as Ayad Akhtar, Hillary Clinton, Khaled Hosseini, Kweku Mandela, Azar Nafisi, Samantha Power, Marjane Satrapi, and Gloria Steinem. PEN America is currently working with writer Amir Soltani, author of Zahra’s Paradise, as well as filmmaker Jeff Kaufman, whose documentary profiling Nasrin was released in early October and screened at the European Union, prompting EU Parliament members to repeat their call for Nasrin’s release. PEN America also released statements ahead of the W20 Summit and United Nations’ 65th Commission on the Status of Women advocating for Nasrin’s freedom.