On Wednesday, Iran’s leading human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was arrested again. It was a reminder that President Hassan Rouhani is failing to deliver on many of the key reforms he promised when he was elected in 2013.
Writing on his Facebook page, Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, announced that “a few hours ago Nasrin was arrested at home and sent to the court at Evin [Prison].”
This family has been through all of this before. “I once told interrogators in the interrogation room: ‘Of all the things the authorities should do for their country, you only know one, and that is arresting people,'” Khandan fearlessly wrote in his post.
I met this brave couple once, on the night that Sotoudeh had been released from her last stint in Evin Prison, after serving three years of a six-year sentence. I visited them at their home in Tehran, which was very close to where my wife and I lived on the west side of the capital, just a couple of miles from Evin.
It was September 2013. The release of Sotoudeh and other activists was seen by many as a sign of good faith from the Islamic Republic to the international community. Rouhani was preparing to attend the United Nations General Assembly for the first time and clearly wanted to make a good impression.
“If this new approach that began last night continues, then I can say, yes, Rouhani is sending a message to the world and he is engaging, first with his own people and then with the rest of the world, and we will welcome this gesture,” Sotoudeh told me then.
As part of the conditions of her release at the time she was barred from practicing law or traveling outside Iran. But she never relented, continuing to advocate for underrepresented Iranians.
Rouhani’s campaign slogan was “prudence and hope,” but more Iranians than ever are arriving at the conclusion that there are few grounds for hope. There is always a force — domestic or external — standing by to disappoint them in their aspirations for a better future.
Like so many other people the Iranian regime has arrested over the years, Sotoudeh was convicted of crimes against national security and propaganda against the ruling system. These are two of the catchphrases that are well known to those of us who have been through Iran’s “revolutionary” judicial process.
What these charges really mean is that the individual was operating within the confines of the rigid laws of the Islamic republic, and yet was still perceived as a threat that needed to be silenced.
Recently, Sotoudeh has been representing women who were arrested for defying Iran’s compulsory head-covering rules, but she is an accomplished human rights lawyer, with a long and distinguished record of defending journalists, human rights activists and defendants facing the death penalty (some of them children).
Sotoudeh went on multiple hunger strikes when she was last in Evin, which raised her international profile. She resisted because she was not allowed visits with her two young children. Blocking a family’s ability to be with one another, especially parent and child, is forbidden under Iranian law, but the forces tasked with upholding the law rarely comply.
One of the most sinister aspects of Iran’s judicial system is the deep damage it does to families. Sotoudeh was a vocal advocate for reforming those archaic and inhumane practices. Now, once again, she is a victim of them.