Nasrin Sotoudeh, Iranian Women’s Rights Attorney, Freed from Prison After Two Years

“With her resilient dedication to human rights, despite imprisonment and physical peril, Nasrin Sotoudeh is clearly the Nelson Mandela of our time.”

After a six-week hunger strike, Iranian women’s rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh—unfairly jailed two years ago on spying and propaganda charges—has been temporarily released from Qarchak prison on medical leave. She is now home with her husband, Reza Khandan, as her family seeks urgent medical care.

Sotoudeh’s release is due in large part to international pressure from the tireless efforts of activists and human rights groups.

One such activist is Jeff Kaufman, a documentary filmmaker behind the film “Nasrin.” On Wednesday, Oct. 28, Kaufman—joined by Mansoureh Shojaee, initiator of the “One Million Signatures” campaign, and film producer Marcia Ross—gave the following speech to the European Parliament to raise awareness about the incredible activism of Iranian women’s rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh:

Nasrin Sotoudeh, Iranian Human Rights Lawyer, Freed After Six-Week Hunger Strike
Jeff Kaufman interviews Mansoureh Shojaee for his documentary, “Nasrin.” (Courtesy of Floating World Pictures)

We thank the European Parliament for this opportunity to show scenes from our documentary “Nasrin,” to discuss the global importance of Nasrin Sotoudeh’s work, and to call for Nasrin’s immediate release from prison.

The European Parliament has a long and admirable record of calling for human rights in all nations, and of supporting human rights defenders. A commitment to “liberty, democracy and respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law” is one the founding principles of the European Union.

Nasrin Sotoudeh is serving a decades-long prison sentence for championing those very values. A United Nations investigatory panel stated:

“The evidence suggests Ms. Sotoudeh’s imprisonment, both now and in the past, is State retaliation for her tireless work defending human rights.”

Nasrin’s advocacy for the rights of women, children, religious minorities, journalists, artists, political prisoners and those facing the death penalty has brought her international acclaim. She has recently been honored with The Right Livelihood Award and The German Judges Association Human Rights Prize. Millions of people around the world have signed petitions calling for her release.

In August, Nasrin ended a 46-day hunger strike that brought global attention to the high risk of COVID-19 in Iranian prisons. In reprisal, her daughter was summoned to court and threatened with detention, and Nasrin was transferred to the more remote Qarchak Prison.

Nasrin suffers from a life-threatening heart condition. She needs proper medical treatment and the care of her family, not incarceration in a facility known as the “most dangerous prison in Iran.”

In 1985 Lord Bethell, vice chairman of the European Parliament Human Rights sub-committee, visited Nelson Mandela in prison. Afterwards he called on the South African president to immediately free Mr. Mandela.
Lord Bethell also released a statement saying, “The European Parliament and our ten member states will continue to press with the utmost vigour for Mr. Mandela’s unconditional release.”

In 1988, Mandela received the European Parliament’s first Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought—an award given to Nasrin Sotoudeh in 2012.

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Nasrin Sotoudeh, Iranian Human Rights Lawyer, Freed After Six-Week Hunger Strike
A banner hangs at the entrance of the European Parliament in Brussels, when Nasrin Sotoudeh and filmmaker Jafar Panahi were awarded the European Parliament’s first Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2012. (Courtesy of the European Parliament).

With her resilient dedication to human rights, despite imprisonment and physical peril, Nasrin Sotoudeh is clearly the Nelson Mandela of our time. Her vision and personal character are an inspiration to people around the world.

Last month, Kweku Mandela wrote an open letter to Nasrin that said, “I humbly want to thank you for honoring the memory of my grandfather Nelson Mandela. You are breathing life into our collective dream for freedom, equality and justice for all. I pray for your health and for your release.”

Iran is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Article 34 of Iran’s Constitution says, “Seeking justice is the indisputable right of every individual.”

Nasrin Sotoudeh has long sought justice for others. Her spirit remains strong but fragile health puts her life at risk. We ask everyone here, and all you represent, to seek justice for Nasrin Sotoudeh. We urge the Islamic Republic of Iran to promptly release Nasrin and other prisoners of conscience. Nasrin has said, “Our children must not inherit silence from us.” Please continue to raise the collective voice of your member nations and demand fair treatment and freedom for Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Watch the trailer for “Nasrin” below.

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Jeff Kaufman produced, directed and wrote the documentaries Nasrin, Every Act Of Life, The State of Marriage, Father Joseph, The Savoy King: Chick Webb and the Music That Changed America, Brush With Life: The Art of Being Edward Biberman and Education Under Fire, plus a number of short films for Amnesty International, programs for the Discovery Channel and the History Channel.