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“They can’t silence us”

by Chris Burns

Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has staged a sit-in outside the Iranian Bar Association for more than six months, demanding the right to work freely after the association last October blocked her from practicing for five years.

A member of the Iranian Human Rights group and winner of the 2008 Human Rights International (HRI) award and the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Sotoudeh has defended prominent opposition activists, journalists and death row inmates.

She has been arrested on numerous occasions because of her work, spent three years in prison on false charges of endangering national security and staged several hunger strikes.

With the help of a translator, Sotoudeh spoke with Equal Times by telephone from Iran.

 
What’s the impact of your protest so far?

In the first days of my sit-in, police forces captured us, I and my friends who held the sit-in. But step-by-step, after a while, they stopped interfering. And now we are more relaxed than previously.

I think that the Bar association will not issue a verdict against my colleagues, and I expect them to overturn the verdict against me.

So I think that I had some results from my sit-in.

 

How much hardship do you see among lawyers like you?

One lawyer in front of the prison was recently arrested only because he was doing his job.

It is dangerous for lawyers to defend their clients independently and according to the law.

Furthermore, the revolutionary court (established after the 1979 Islamic revolution) should be excluded from the justice system.

 

How effective are the official actions in silencing dissent among the lawyers?

Maybe they can be successful over a short period of time. But they can’t silence us.

They can’t make us silent. We insist on our goals, on the basis of non-violence and civil rights.

 

What can the international community do, especially if the existing sanctions are lifted with a nuclear deal?

First of all, we do not want to sacrifice the debates on human rights and let them be affected by the nuclear talks.

There are still executions; political prisoners have been in jail for a long time; men and women are under house arrest.

It is very important for us to have the right to protest.

We expect the international community to pay attention to the discussion with the Iranian government and not ignore the human rights debate in Iran.

It is our problem, and it depends on our efforts. It is useful for the international community to care for us. We need support from civil society, NGOs and especially from the lawyers’ community in other countries.

 

When will you stop your sit-in?

If they change the verdict and if they extend my license, I will stop my sit-in.

But if they don’t, I will continue my sit-in for three years.

I already spent the first seven months of my sit-in. So I will continue for two years and five months more.

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