Will you take a stand for an incarcerated human rights lawyer on a hunger strike in solitary confinement?
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Soheil Parhizi, an Iranian freedom activist in exile who is fighting on behalf of the many Iranian victims who reside in Iran. He is presently raising awareness of the plight of Nasrin Sotoudeh, an incarcerated human rights lawyer in Iran who is on a hunger strike and who has been recently transferred to solitary confinement.
FP: Soheil Parhizi, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about the plight of Nasrin Sotoudeh.
Before we do, tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
Parhizi: Thank you Jamie,
I am an ex-employee of the UNESCO Tehran cluster office, where I worked as IT consultant since 2005. Apart from handling my main duties in UNESCO, I collaborated with its Education unit and co-managed the organization of several major UN events. I was also a social and human-rights activist, charity worker, and a model/actor besides my work at the United Nations.
According to articles 18, 19 and 20 of the Universal declaration of human rights signed by the Islamic republic of Iran, and also the Iranian constitution law, which expressly establishes and permits the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and demonstration and states that every Iranian citizen has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, I took part in the after-election demonstrations on the streets of Tehran and I was brutally beaten on the evening of Sunday, June 24th 2009, by 15-20 Basiji forces armed with batons , pepper gas and electric shocker, all of which they used against me. They sprayed pepper gas in my mouth which got badly injured , hit me with their batons , which resulted in the deep injury of both my legs, my chest and back. They even shocked me with their electric shockers.
After this incident, I started citizen journalism activities and few months later I created and conducted few popular international human rights campaigns from inside of Iran. I gathered a team of human rights activists, writers, journalists, translators, lawyers and people who collected information in front of Evin prison.
FP: Thank you for sharing this with us Soheil. I am so sorry about the brutality that was inflicted on you and you have our tremendous respect for your courage and activism on behalf of freedom and on behalf of those suffering abuse in Iran.
Tell us now about who Nasrin Sotoudeh is, what is happening with her and why.
Parhizi: Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rights lawyer. She was born in 1963 in a middle class family in the north of Iran. She did her Law Degree in Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran and passed the bar exam in 1995. She started practicing law in 2003. She was the lawyer of several political activists and protesters who have been arrested since the disputed presidential election in 2009. She also was the lawyer of prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18. Some of her clients were Shirin Ebadi, Heshmat Tabarzadi, Nahid Keshavarz, Parvin Ardalan, and Isa Saharkhiz. She also advocated several child abuse and criminal cases.
Nasrin was arrested in September 2010 on charges of "spreading propaganda," "conspiring to harm state security" and "membership of Human Rights Defenders Centre." In January 2011, Iranian authorities sentenced her to 11 years in prison. Moreover, she was banned from practicing law and travelling abroad for 20 years. However, an appeals court reduced Sotoudeh's prison sentence to six years, and her ban from working as a lawyer to ten years.
Her awards and honors include:
2011: PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award
2011: Southern Illinois University School of Law Rule of Law Citation
2012: Sakharov Prize
FP: Nasrin Sotoudeh’s Children were recently denied a visitation with their mother on the 26th Day of her hunger strike. Kindly tell us about this heart-wrenching development.
Parhizi: For months, Iran’s ministry of intelligence, which runs the prison, refused Sotoudeh family visits, and she was kept in isolation in the same jail where some of the people she defended are held. But recently, her daughter Mehraveh, 12, and son Nima, 5, were allowed to visit her briefly, after they waited with their father, Reza Khandan, at the gates of the prison for more than three hours the previous day.
“The children were allowed to see their mother for a few minutes in the presence of security agents,” Khandan wrote on his Facebook page, adding that he and other family members were kept outside.
Family members were not even allowed to accompany the children inside the prison to make sure about Sotoudeh's health.
I believe Iran’s ministry of intelligence just tried to deviate from international pressure without recognizing Sotoudeh’s demands.
It is important to mention that “The Iranian authorities have illegally imposed a travel ban on her daughter and on one occasion held her husband overnight in prison for peaceful advocacy on her behalf.”
Jafar Panahi, the other winner of this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, also met with Sotoudeh's family and wrote about his worries on Facebook:
“Still not feeling well from last night, can’t take the image of Nasrin’s son Nima’s face out of my mind. So full of bitterness and sadness at the same time and so far from a childhood years yet again only a child. I was thinking to myself even if Nasrin was guilty, which she is not, what is Nima’s crime? What will become of our future? What will be the fate of this generation? The generation that has been belittled and put down, the generation that has so much haltered all these years, what will they do in the future? I am terrified to even think about it.
Despite all these pressures, one can learn some lessons from Nasrin Sotoudeh's letter to her children dated November 01, 2011 and the way she explained to them why she can’t see them:
“Remember, treat your friends the same way you treat your enemies. An enemy’s hostility cannot justify acts of violence toward anyone. I dare tell you that, no matter how they treat me, I bear no resentment and hostility toward those who consider me their enemy - nor will I go down the whirlpool of wrath and hatred they have created.”
FP: What can we do to help Nasrin?
Parhizi: According to Shirin Ebadi's interview with International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran about Nasrin Sotoudeh on Dec. 2011:
"We must try to use those articles of the law that serve the interests of our clients, and show the court that illegal actions have taken place against our clients. If, in the end they ignore us, we must inform public opinion on a national and international level, through interviews with different media. Because when a judge is not willing to carry out and listen to the lawyer, we have no choice but to seek help from the society's public conscience ..."
We also seek help from the society's public conscience. The primary goal of the campaign has been the release of Nasrin Sotoudeh through news dissemination, gathering signatures, and international attention to Nasrin Sotoudeh’s plight as an imprisoned lawyer and human rights activist. The campaign has met with a number of prominent Iranian and non-Iranian figures throughout Europe and the United States in the past two years.
FP: Soheil Parhizi, thank you very much for joining Frontpage Interview. And we are very grateful to you for your courageous and noble work on behalf of the persecuted people of Iran in general and of Nasrin Sotoudeh in particular.