Nasrin Sotoudeh

Awarded 2020


För sin orädda kamp, trots stora personliga risker, för att främja politisk frihet och mänskliga rättigheter i Iran.

Nasrin Sotoudeh är en iransk jurist som arbetar för rättsstatsprincipen och rättigheter för politiska fångar, oppositionsaktivister, kvinnor och barn som utsätts för Irans repressiva regim. Hon avtjänar ett långt fängelsestraff för sin kamp för att förändra landets stränga rättssystem. Trots att hon sitter fängslad, och trots ständiga hot mot hennes familj, fortsätter Nasrin Sotoudeh sitt enträgna arbete för en fungerande rättsstat.

Sotoudeh klev fram i efterspelet till de regeringskritiska protesterna 2009 – den så kallade ”Gröna revolutionen” som ägde rum efter presidentvalet samma år. Sotoudeh försvarade flera aktivister som greps under regeringens hårda tillslag mot demonstranterna. Bland de hon försvarade finns Heshmat Tabarzadi, ledaren för den förbjudna oppositionsgruppen Democratic Front of Iran. Sotoudeh företrädde också den iranska människorättsaktivisten och mottagaren av Nobels Fredspris, Shirin Ebadi.

På grund av sitt oförtrutna arbete för rättvisa har Sotoudeh sedan 2010 fängslats ett flertal gånger, och även satts i isoleringscell. I mars 2019 dömdes hon till totalt 38 års fängelse och 148 piskrapp för påhittade anklagelser – bland annat ”korruption och prostitution”. Under covid-19-pandemin har Sotoudeh hungerstrejkat för att protestera mot det fortsatta frihetsberövandet av politiska fångar som lever under fruktansvärda förhållanden i Irans fängelser.


Ert stöd tar oss ännu närmare till att uppnå det slutliga målet som vi alla kämpar för: en värld av fred, harmoni och ömsesidig respekt.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, pristagare 2020

Biography in English

Nasrin Sotoudeh stood up against Iran’s repressive regime, providing legal representation to those persecuted by authorities. However, by demanding human rights, she became a threat to the Iranian government herself. As a result, she currently serves a lengthy prison sentence.

Sotoudeh’s insistence on the rule of law and unrelenting fight against oppression have made her a symbol of the struggle for justice in Iran.

Amnesty International © Private

Fighting for justice in an unjust system

Under Iran’s repressive regime, political freedoms and human rights are heavily curbed. Iranian authorities routinely use lethal force, torture and ill-treatment to crush dissent and crack down on any opposition. The death penalty is still in use. According to Amnesty International, Iran executed more than 250 people in 2019 alone, which is the second-highest number globally after China.

Because of its repressive regime, Iran is one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders, especially for women. Opposition activists such as reformist or secular politicians, journalists, students and lawyers are often subject to arbitrary arrests, maltreatment in prison and draconic sentences.

Sotoudeh has been a human rights lawyer since 2003 when she finally managed to obtain her lawyer’s license, having been blocked by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence for eight years after she passed her bar exam in 1995. Before obtaining her lawyer's licence, she worked as a journalist for reformist newspapers in Iran.

Sotoudeh has been a leading advocate in the struggle for the rule of law in Iran. Her work, along with that of others, centres on insisting that the Islamic Republic applies proper legal procedures to all citizens, including prisoners of conscience, and abides by its international commitments with regard to human rights and women’s equality. In this regard, Sotoudeh has criticised and campaigned against unfair trials by the Islamic Revolutionary Court, which is a special court system set up to prosecute opponents of the Islamic government. Its trials are held in secret.

Sotoudeh has been a leading voice of resistance against the silencing of political opposition, and the arbitrary persecution of human rights and women activists. She has notably represented Iranian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, when her assets were seized in the aftermath of the 2009 elections. Ebadi has been in exile ever since. Ebadi has called Sotoudeh “the lawyer so many of us, human rights defenders, would call when the government harassed us or put one of us or one of our family members in jail.”

Defending political activists and the vulnerable

While in most countries, the act of representing a defendant is the norm, in Iran, the simple act of standing in solidarity with those opposing the regime can lead to brutal retaliation. This makes Sotoudeh’s work of choosing to defend political activists and dissidents all the more courageous.

Sotoudeh became especially active after the crackdown of the protests following the 2009 presidential elections in Iran, the so-called “Green Revolution” movement. She defended many of the activists who were arrested during the demonstrations, including Heshmat Tabarzadi, the head of the banned opposition group Democratic Front of Iran.

She has also been a staunch advocate for the most vulnerable populations in Iran: women and children. She has actively participated in Iran’s women's rights movement, including the “One Million Signatures” campaign, which was started in 2006 aiming to change discriminatory laws. She also represented several women's rights activists in court. In 2018, a number of young women protested against compulsory hijab laws by taking off their headscarves on the street, known as the Girls of Revolution Street. They were arrested, beaten in custody and charged with “violating public prudency” and “encouraging the immorality of prostitution.” Sotoudeh called the women’s actions a “civil disobedience movement” and defended three of them in court.

Other notable activists Sotoudeh defended over the years include women’s rights activists Mansoureh Shojaee, Parvin Ardalan and Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh; journalists Morteza Kazemian, Issa Saharkhiz and Omid Memarian; student activist Zia Nabavi and artist Parastou Forouhar.

Sotoudeh has also been fighting against the death penalty, particularly in the case of children sentenced to death, which contravenes international human rights law. She defended a number of minors who had been sentenced to death for alleged murder before reaching the age of 18. She has organised out-of-court activities to save death row adolescents, several of which were successful. Sotoudeh is a member of the non-governmental organisation called “Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty” (LEGAM). It was established in 2013, aiming to abolish the death penalty in stages with its activities mainly concentrated around changing the country’s death penalty laws.

Persecution and imprisonment

For her activism, Sotoudeh has often been the target of the Iranian authorities. She was first arrested in September 2010 and charged with “spreading propaganda against the State” and “collusion and gathering with the aim of acting against national security.” She was subsequently sentenced to 11 years in prison, with a further 20-year ban on practising law and a 20-year restriction on social rights and travelling abroad. The sentence was commuted on appeal to 6 years of imprisonment and a 10-year ban on practising her profession.

During her imprisonment, Sotoudeh was held for long periods in solitary confinement and often denied contact with her husband and young children. In protest against these inhumane conditions, she conducted several hunger strikes. Following her first imprisonment in 2010, the national and international outcry over the case resulted in her release in September 2013.

Beginning October 2014, she staged sit-ins for 9 months outside the Bar Association of Tehran in protest against the suspension of her lawyer’s licence. Eventually, she succeeded to have the suspension reduced to 9 months and thus lifted.

In June 2018, Sotoudeh was detained again after being notified of a court ruling, issued in absentia in 2016, sentencing her to 5 years of imprisonment for allegedly “acting against national security.” Shortly before her arrest, Sotoudeh had protested a decision by Iran's judiciary to allow only a pool of 20 preselected lawyers to represent political cases. Further charges were also added, including blatantly false and politicised ones such as endangering the country's security through assembly and "corruption and prostitution," most likely in response to her defence of the women protestors who had removed their headscarves.

In total, Sotoudeh was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for these “crimes” in March 2019. According to a recent Iranian law, she will only serve the longest sentence for one of the convictions, which is still 12 years. Her sentence is being served in Evin Prison, one of the regime’s most notorious prisons for detaining political prisoners, where there has been widespread documentation of torture and human rights abuses.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Iran’s prison system was severely affected by the virus. Sotoudeh has subsequently conducted further hunger strikes during the pandemic, calling for the release of all political prisoners, decrying the abysmal conditions of detention of human rights defenders and political prisoners in the country, and condemning the multiple breaches to their right to a fair trial.

As she continues her fight even from behind bars, Sotoudeh remains a powerful symbol of hope for a more just and equitable society in Iran.

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