Jailed human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been charged with espionage, her lawyer Payam Darafshan announced on Wednesday, August 15.
“In the prosecutor’s indictment, her charges were ‘propaganda against the regime’ and ‘insulting the Supreme Leader,’ but Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court has now charged her with espionage,” Darafshan told the media.
“This new charge is not related to a new case,” Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan told IranWire. “At the moment, Nasrin has a five-year prison sentence for a 2016 case when she was tried in absentia. She has an open case for her role as the defense attorney for the ‘Revolution Women.’ There has been no verdict in this case and they can bring up any new charges.”
The Revolution Women movement, which hit the headlines earlier this year, was led by young Iranian women who took off their headscarves in public in solo protests against the Islamic Republic's rules on compulsory hijab.
Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested on June 13 at her home after she took up the defense of the Revolution Women. At the time it was announced that she had been arrested following a complaint by the judge handling the case of Shaparak Shajarizadeh in the city of Kashan.
One of many Revolution Women, on February 26 Shaparak Shajarizadeh stood on a traffic island in the Iranian capital Tehran and waved her white headscarf held on the end of a stick out in front of her. Shortly afterward she was arrested and, according to her, was beaten during the week that she was forced to spend in a detention center. Later, in May, Shajarizadeh was arrested again, this time in Kashan, but she was released after going on a hunger strike.
Authorities sentenced her to 20 years in prison as a warning to others who might feel moved to follow her example.
The Judge Ignores the Indictment
According to Reza Khandan, Shajarizadeh’s case is still open. But a new charge of espionage was added to Sotoudeh’s 2016 case. “One of the accusations in the 2016 case against Nasrin was her meetings with foreign diplomats. In the indictment there were many accusations but all of them were categorized under ‘propaganda against the regime’ and ‘gathering and conspiracy against national security.’ But now the court has set aside these charges and has cited Article 510 of the Islamic Penal Code to charge her with helping spies.”
Article 510 of the Islamic Penal Code states: “Anyone who, with the intent to disrupt national security or aid the enemy, recognizes and hides, or assists in hiding, spies who have a mission to gather information or cause damage to the country, shall be sentenced to six months to three years’ imprisonment.”
And a note in the same article states: “Anyone who, without spying or hiding spies, identifies and attracts people by any means and introduces them to enemy states or foreign countries for espionage purposes against the national security [of the Islamic Republic of Iran] shall be sentenced to six months to two years’ imprisonment.”
A Sentence Harsher than the Law
“What is remarkable is that the maximum penalty under this article is three years in jail, while the judge has sentenced Nasrin to five years for it,” Sotoudeh’s husband said. “Besides, the verdict is not based on the charges in the indictment. If the judge did not agree with the indictment he should have sent it back to the prosecution without issuing a verdict.”
In Iran, when it comes to cases against people who have raised or challenged sensitive political issues, first the prosecutor files a complaint against the accused and the accused is then arrested based on this complaint. The case is then sent to the prosecutor’s office, which prepares the evidence and the detail of the charges, and then examining magistrates issue an indictment to be filed with the court. The court then must proceed according to the indictment. But “the court’s verdict ignored the charges in the indictment,” said Khandan. “Instead, the judge used Article 510 to sentence her to five years in prison for helping [to carry out] espionage. We had no idea that such a verdict had been issued. This inconsistency and problem was so obvious that a few months ago, the department responsible for carrying out the verdicts returned the verdict to the court, saying that the court’s verdict was not consistent with the indictment.”
Khandan pointed out that the court must answer questions about the charge of helping spies. “It must be specified who the spy was and what help the spy has received,” he said. “Hasn’t Foreign Minister Zarif met with the same diplomats whom Nasrin has met? Who are the spies among these diplomats? If they are spies, what action has been taken against them? Have they been expelled?”
According to her husband, after her previous arrest, Nasrin Sotoudeh pursued her case closely and spent time consulting with other lawyers. But this time she has not responded. “She discovered that no action on her part would make a difference on how the case is handled,” Khandan said. “She learned that they will do whatever they want to do. They will issue their verdict and they will uphold that verdict. In fact, the case was an ultimatum and now I can say with certainty that the Revolutionary Court does not follow a just due process of law.”
The original case that Khandan refers to dates back to 2010. Sotoudeh was sentenced to 11 years in prison, was banned from practicing law for 20 years and was banned from traveling abroad for 20 years on the charge of “activities against national security.” The appeals court reduced the sentence to six years in prison and a 10-year ban on practicing law. She was released after serving three years.
Illegal and Unjust
“I am confident that if they hold a trial now Nasrin will not participate,” Khandan told IranWire. “She did not present herself to the examining magistrate for questioning. She did not sign anything or write anything. She does not put even a dot on the papers she is presented with. She told our daughter Mehraveh, ‘today they brought me a summons from the prosecutor’s office and wanted my signature but I did not sign it.’ She refuses to even sign a receipt because she believes that the Revolutionary Court is both illegal and unjust.”
The Iranian constitution contains no provisions for either the Revolutionary Court or the Special Clergy Court. Early on after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, these courts were created as a “temporary measure” by orders from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution. “This ‘temporary’ measure has lasted for 40 years,” Khandan said. “Nasrin says that the best defense is not to recognize this illegal court.”
More on the persecution of Nasrin Sotoudeh and her fight for human rights:
Protesters Demand Release of Human Rights Lawyer, June 17, 2018
The Regime’s Tactics Against Iran’s “Revolution Women”, February 26, 2018
Nasrin Sotoudeh: “Preventive Arrest” is Illegal, January 8, 2018
Faezeh Hashemi and Nasrin Sotoudeh Visit Baha’i Prisoner, May 13, 2016
“The Security Forces are Trying to Ruin us Financially”, September 24, 2015
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Nasrin Sotoudeh, September 9, 2015
Nasrin Sotoudeh and Supporters Defiant as Guards Break up Protest, February 2, 2015
Iran Re-arrests Leading Human Rights Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, October 28, 2014
Award-Winning Human Rights Lawyer Barred for Three Years, October 20, 2014
Nasrin Sotoudeh, My Lawyer, September 19, 2013
Prisoners Release in Iran: Window Dressing, or Real Change?, September 19, 2013