"They released us too late. We expected to be released a lot sooner." This was the first thing Nasrin Sotoudeh, lawyer and prisoner of conscience, told me on the phone just an hour after the Evin Prison staff drove her home last night. It seemed to me that her happiness at being freed was more a reaction to the happiness of the others. It was clear that Sotoudeh, along with millions of others who were concerned about her and the others like her, will never forget that she has endured more than three years in prison for simply carrying out her professional duties as a defense lawyer for political prisoners.
When I called, her daughter Mehraveh, 13, picked up the phone. She was so happy she could not contain herself, and her joy had such volume, such energy, that it affected me on the other side of the line. I occurred to me that we seldom ask what these children of political prisoners go through and what they feel. Their parents had made their choices, but Mehraveh and her brother Nima were growing up with their mother was in prison. They lived in the backdrop of the threats regularly made against her and went to bed crying many nights. Mehraveh's joy, therefore, touched my heart. It was sweet as honey. It was like a cool breeze on the face on a sunny day.
As much as she loves her children, Nasrin Sotoudeh has been always committed to her work and defended her clients at the highest level, helping them fight against the cruelty and injustice they've faced from authorities. It was always hard for me to understand how she balanced work and family, so that one didn't take priority or subsume the other. I couldn't find any answers, except that for Nasrin, the two are the same; she is a fierce defender of her clients' rights, shedding light wherever there are violations of laws, so that she can ensure a better future for her children in an environment where there is peace and justice.
This may be why during our short conversation, she turned the subject to other prisoners and said that she is thinking about those who are still inside Evin. "When you are out, you think about the prisoners inside, and when you are inside you think about the people outside," she said.
She told me about cellmates she felt did not belong in prison. "There were five imprisoned Baha'i women in our ward. In the men's ward there are more than 30 Baha'i prisoners and it is clear that they are only there because they taught their religion," she told me. "Our work is not complete yet. All political prisoners must be released, otherwise they will run out of patience someday," she said. Those words about running out of patience catapulted me back to the days when I was Nasrin Sotoudeh's client and we attended court sessions together, prepared defense bills together, and waited to hear good or bad news. Those days were the days of bad news.
When I was arrested in 2004, Nasrin Sotoudeh and Mohammad Seifzadeh were my lawyers. As compared to other human rights lawyers, Nasrin was younger and quieter and I did not know much about her. When we went to talk to the assistant judge assigned to the case at the judiciary, I felt assured that if I was to ever be freed from the complicated security case, my path would pass through Nasrin Sotoudeh and of course Mohammad Seifzadeh. Nasrin pointed out all the legal nuances to me during the court sessions and whenever the assistant judge said things he wasn't supposed to, she respectfully reminded him and politely and powerfully pushed back.
Sotoudeh knew that the man who sat there telling me to "write the truth" in my defense bill was the same man who had come to visit me in the secret detention center of the police force, telling me he would shove a stick up my ass so that I would learn what is what, and that I had had to stay in that detention center for six months to a year. He had threatened me, saying that he would do things to me that meant I would not be able to hold a pen in my hand when I got out. Yet she talked elegantly, as if she was sitting in Switzerland and was addressing a prosecutor's representative in a fair justice system. I must admit she got on my nerves a little for being so polite and for constantly pointing out the articles of different laws to prevent any violations of justice. She kept telling me: "So long as you are telling the truth, I will support you." She said, 'don't worry' so many times that I started to worry!
When I left Iran to continue my education abroad, the judiciary pursued my case with Mohammad Seifzadeh. There was no payment or fees for the services provided, but my lawyers did not stop pursuing the truth in my absence from Iran. During a court session, Nasrin had provided such a detailed defense, explaining to the judge why her client was innocent and why the judge should rule for my acquittal, that my mother started crying. She called me and said: "God bless her. I fear that she may get into trouble. These are ill-meaning people and they might do something to her." She said that the judge had used every conceivable means, including insulting her, but Sotoudeh had not lost her cool and had not been provoked by the judge. After the trial, my mother asked Nasrin how she could be so patient, enduring the judge's incessant rudeness, and she responded: "This doesn't matter. What matters is the end result."