Over the past two months, prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has received a series of death threats.
The lawyer, who regularly faces harassment and intimidation from unidentified individuals and critics as well as the Iranian authorities, has received text messages threatening her with execution, sudden death, acid attacks and mutilation.
Sotoudeh was sentenced to 11 years in prison following the disputed 2009 presidential election, and was banned from practicing law or leaving the country for 20 years. In 2011, an appeals court reduced her sentence to six years and the ban to 10 years. She was released in September 2013 along with 10 others prisoners of conscience just before newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani was due to address the United Nations. The ban was later reduced to three years.
Over a period of nine months in 2014 and 2015, Sotoudeh picketed the headquarters of the Iranian Bar Association on a daily basis, calling for her licence to practice law to be reinstated. The ban was eventually lifted, but shortly after she had to undergo surgery.
In mid-August, she was summoned to present herself to Branch 2 of the prosecutor’s office at Evin Prison by August 22. After submitting proof of her medical condition, she was granted a three-week reprieve.
IranWire talked to Nasrin Sotoudeh about the recent summons, the threats against her and her medical condition.
Can you tell us about the summons you received last week?
Yes, I was summoned last Sunday [August 16]. I had five days to present myself but, since both my legs had been operated on, I have difficulty walking and there is a danger of infection. I wrote a letter to the prosecutor’s office and asked for an extension. I attached medical proof and my husband Reza Khandan delivered the letter. For now they have agreed to extend the date for three weeks.
Why have you been summoned?
I do not know the reason. The summons says that there is a case against me pending but, contrary to the clear text of the law, the charge has not been specified. Under the law, the charges and the reasons behind them must be specified, but they did not tell my husband anything [on August 22]. However, the moment that my legs get better, I will definitely present myself to the prosecutor’s office.
What is the situation with your suspended license? Has your license to practice law been renewed?
It is unlikely that there will be a problem without the renewal of my license. I was taking preliminary steps [to have the license reinstated] but because for nine months I had been picketing, other necessary things were delayed. Then there was the surgery on my legs. As a result, I cannot concentrate on the renewal of my license. There is no lawful reason whatsoever for it to be refused. As soon as I can move I will do what is necessary to reinstate the license — like settling accounts with the Lawyers Support Fund and the tax bureau. In fact, I was doing these things when the surgery came up. Up until now I have not encountered anything that I need to protest against.
So the reason for the new summons is unclear?
I cannot even guess the reason. People have the right to take a position on issues, express their views, and approve or disapprove. To prosecute someone for the way the person thinks is contrary to all the principles of human rights.
You said in a recent interview that you have been threatened repeatedly.
Yes, yes. The first time was when I was picketing. A motorcyclist wearing a helmet approached me and said, “Aren’t you afraid you will be executed?” I asked him who he was and why he had asked me such a question. He became very nervous. “I am a just a citizen passing by,” he answered.
“No,” I said. “I have not done anything that would make me worried about being executed.” Since then, over the past two months, I have regularly received threatening text messages. They range from political and moral slogans to death threats. They come from an Irancell [mobile network operator] number. They threaten sudden death, acid attacks and mutilation. Some of the texts don’t make sense and are really sick. They are all in English.
What have you done to deal with the situation?
I have written letters to the ministers of intelligence and the interior, telling them about the texts and giving them the phone number. I asked them to pursue the matter so that the threats stop. But I have received no response. I also filed a formal complaint with the prosecutor’s office. The complaint was referred to the police station at Shahrak-e Gharb [a district in Tehran] for them to pursue. So far there have been no results. Whenever I go to the police station, their computers are down. Whenever their computers are down, their whole operation comes to a halt.
So I have pursued the matter through both official and legal channels, but have got nowhere. The messages continue. My question is this: In a country where somebody who sends a joke or a humorous text message is tracked, identified and arrested at home the same night— and this is considered to be a security service to the country and the person responsible is presented as a security threat — why are these threatening messages against me ignored? Why is nobody held accountable? I filed a complaint more than a month ago. The first month I tolerated it because I thought a mentally disturbed person was sending the messages and that they might stop. But the threats are getting worse every day and the last few said: “Accidents can happen without warning.”
Do you think there is a connection between these threats and the warrant you received?
I cannot say there is a connection until I see the charges. You know, this is not the first time that activists have been threatened. This has been going on for years and years. Before, they didn’t text, they made threats through letters. I believe it is my duty to publicize these threats and to ask the government officials of my country to take action to ensure the security of its citizens — and especially the security of government critics.
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