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Iran human rights lawyer's sentence criticized

Amnesty International says Nasrin Sotoudeh, who received an 11-year prison term, is a prisoner of conscience. France calls for her release.

January 11, 2011|By Meris Lutz, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Beirut — The sentencing of a leading Iranian human rights lawyer to 11 years in prison has resulted in a chorus of international condemnation.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, reportedly convicted of acting against national security and failing to wear the Islamic head scarf, was also banned Sunday from practicing law or traveling for 20 years.

Sotoudeh was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in September and has been tortured, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Sotoudeh's family.

She aroused the ire of the judiciary when she spoke out about the secret execution of one of her clients, who was convicted of belonging to an outlawed monarchist group and hanged before dawn Jan. 28, 2010, without Sotoudeh's knowledge.

A representative of France's Foreign Ministry said Monday that Sotoudeh's sentence was "deeply shocking" and called for her release.

"The only known fault of Nasrin Sotoudeh is of specializing in the defense of human rights, particularly those of women, minors and journalists," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.

After Sotoudeh's arrest, her case was taken up by fellow activists and even Britain's ambassador in Tehran, moves that appear to have further enraged authorities.

Last month, British Ambassador Simon Gass wrote an article for the embassy's website in which he criticized Iran's human rights record and called for Sotoudeh's release, saying her "real crime" was "doing her job courageously and highlighting injustices that the Iranian regime would prefer stayed hidden."

Several conservative Iranian lawmakers called for Iranian-British relations to be reevaluated in response to Gass' essay.

Sotoudeh has been one of a small group of lawyers making an effort to represent minorities, activists and women accused of violating Iran's strict morality laws.

Amnesty International's British director, Kate Allen, called her a prisoner of conscience. Five years of Sotoudeh's sentence were for being a member of an outlawed human rights group, even though she wasn't, Allen said.

Lutz is a special correspondent.

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