In a brief phone conversation with her husband, Reza Khandan, Sotoudeh said she was informed by Iranian officials on Saturday of 33 years in jail, in addition to the five she already received last year in August – making a total of 38 years plus the lashes.
Her case has sparked uproar with human rights and legal organisations calling it a blatant injustice.
The legacy of Nasrin
“Nasrin is a very high profile and much loved human rights defender inside Iran,” says Monsoureh Mills, an Iran researcher for Amnesty International.
She adds that in recent years, Iranian authorities have stepped-up their crack down on human rights defenders which has meant “Nasrin has been harassed and targeted for a number of years for her peaceful human rights activities.”
Her work has also included defending people on death row – many who were juveniles, says Mahmoud Amiry-Moghaddam, the director of the Olso-based Iran Human Rights group.
“Political prisoners and other lawyers who have been imprisoned…she has represented them,” he says.
She herself had served a previous prison sentence from 2010 to 2013 on security-related charges.
Symbol of a leader
Her work in human rights, which often pits her directly against the government, has shown authorities that she has the makings of a leader; a feat Iranian authorities are not keen to see, according to Amiry-Moghaddam.
“She's inside Iran. She hasn't left Iran. She's courageous, she's not afraid of the ayatollahs. She's committed to fundamental human rights. She doesn't belong to any political factions within the system, so she has a clean past,” he explains.
But most importantly: “She is a woman. She has all that it takes to be lead peaceful change – and that's what is regarded as the most important threat by the Iranian authorities. That’s why they are doing [this] to her,” he adds.
2018 and 2019 so far have seen many protests across Iran on issues of unpaid salaries, problems with infrastructure, and general discontent due to economic hardships Amiry-Moghaddam points out.
But amongst all those protests was the rise in women doing what they can to push-back against the compulsory hijab.
Iranian women’s rights defenders have courageously filmed the violence of morality police & Pro-government vigilantes as part of #MyCameraIsMyWeapon which aims 2 raise awareness of the harassment that women face in Iran’s streets as a result of hijab lawshttps://t.co/O8vivVcPX3Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) March 12, 2019
Many women film themselves walking in public uncovered, or waving a white hijab in public as a peaceful protest.
But many of these women have been arrested.
One case in particular, was Shaparak Shajarizadeh, the first woman visibly associated with the movement in Iran.
“Shaparak was sentenced to 20 years in prison, 18 suspended, for her peaceful protest against the forced hijab. She went into the street, took off her head scarf and waved it around on the end of a stick,” explains Mills.
Shajarizadeh eventually fled Iran and in media interviews describes “how she was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment while in solitary confinement. She was also denied access to her lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh.”
The power of control
Since Iran’s revolution in 1979, women have been subjected to some of the harsher rules under the guise of Islam.
“It’s a sense of control and power. . . since its inception and birth [the state] has always monopolised women’s bodies,” says Mills.
And right now, as protests across the country gain momentum and female activists gain more visibility, Iranian authorities find themselves in a crisis says the director of Iran Human Rights.
It's in this bubble of panic that they are lashing out to regain control of what they can. “Iranian authorities are worried over losing that monopoly and power [over women]. They have always feared women’s empowerment in the public arena, doing anything in their power to step down their crackdown against these women’s rights defenders,” stresses Mills.
Setting an example
Sotoudeh’s sentencing is likely a “strong signal by the Iranian authorities” to civil society and to all human rights defenders says Amiry-Moghaddam. “I think it’s more of a political sentence” he adds.
Her sentencing is one way of silencing human rights activists in Iran and likely raising the stakes for those who dare go against the government.
But as a lawyer with much international attention, there will likely be growing pressure on Tehran to release her.
The Iranian judicial system does allow for appeals. She has 20 days from the day of sentencing to file an appeal, which according to Mills, is apparently being done by Sotoudeh.