NEW YORK—The re-arrest and detention of Nasrin Sotoudeh on unspecified charges is a vindictive attempt to silence her human rights activism and represents a gross miscarriage of justice, PEN America said in a statement today.

Sotoudeh, a leading human rights lawyer, was arrested and detained on June 13 at her home in Tehran, where she was informed she would be serving a five-year sentence after being convicted in absentia. She has been a long-time opponent of Iran’s judiciary, and recently spoke out against its decision to deny individuals arrested on certain charges, including those related to national security, the right to an independent lawyer. Sotoudeh’s sudden arrest comes on the heels of her announcement of plans for a sit-in to protest the new rule, which undermines the rights of dissidents and activists who are often charged with security offenses. Sotoudeh was previously arrested in 2010, and served three years of a six-year sentence on security-related charges in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison before being released on a pardon; during this period of incarceration, she was honored with PEN America’s 2011 Freedom to Write Award.

“The arrest and secret conviction of Nasrin Sotoudeh without a transparent trial is indicative of the draconian measures the Iranian government will take to silence critical voices,” noted Karin Karlekar, PEN America’s Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs. “In conjunction with recent crackdowns on protests and the arrests of other oppositional voices, the actions taken against Sotoudeh are further evidence of President Rouhani’s failure to fulfill his promise to improve human rights in Iran. Sotoudeh’s tireless work to defend Iranians’ rights should be celebrated, not punished, and PEN America calls for her immediate and unconditional release.”

In addition to her work supporting dissidents and human rights activists, Sotoudeh has also been a passionate defender of women and children in Iran, working as a lawyer for women detained for violating Iran’s compulsory veiling law and as a defender of minors sentenced to execution. Sotoudeh is not the only human rights lawyer targeted for their work: Mohammad Najafi faces national-security charges and potential prison time for claiming that the government covered up the truth about his client’s death in custody. Abdolfattah Soltani, who co-founded the Defenders of Human Rights Center of which Sotoudeh is a member, is currently serving a 13-year sentence for speaking to the press about his cases and for his work at the Center.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: