Who is Nasrin Sotoudeh? Why does she matter so much? Debby Altow, Vice President of ICJW and Vice President of NCJW Canada, explains.
In December 2020, Queens University in Canada conferred an honorary degree on the Iranian human rights campaigner Nasrin Sotoudeh, to recognize her profound contributions to the decades-long struggle for human rights and women’s equality in Iran. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Nasrin has been imprisoned for her work on human rights several times over the past 10 years. She was confined to notorious Evin prison after a sentence in 2018 of 148 lashes and 38 years in prison “for contributing to prostitution” when she advocated for freedom from the hijab.
- There have been countless protestors, journalists, activists, political prisoners and human rights defenders whom Nasrin has supported, only to be rearrested herself and thrown into prison.
- Shaparak Shajarizadeh, now living in Canada, was incarcerated for protesting Iran’s mandatory veiling law and was freed on bail only by Nasrin’s work as an attorney; she managed to escape the country in 2018 and Nasrin was arrested shortly after: “She put her life on the line for me” says Shajarizadeh.
- Nasrin’s 2020 hunger strike protest was cut short by Covid 19, but she wasn’t sent to hospital—she was sent to a worse prison, Qarchak. Her family has suffered too, with her daughter arrested and her husband subjected to unending harassment.
Around the world, Nasrin’s case has gathered support. Canada’s former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler, who has been in the vanguard of the fight for her release (and who collected that degree from Queens), has been joined by President Macron of France, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, presidential candidate Joe Biden and the European Union, Amnesty International among others.
An American film company secretly created a documentary film about Nasrin. It was a daring, difficult and dangerous effort, but it has brought about a strengthened awareness of the dangers Nasrin has faced, and of the utter brutality and absence of genuine law in Iran.
The National Council of Jewish Women of Canada (NCJWC) has championed Nasrin’s cause since 2019: that’s when Prof. Cotler (the Executive Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre in Montreal) first shared her story with the International Council of Jewish Women delegates at a meeting in Toronto.
The President of the International Council of Jewish Women, Penelope Conway, and the entire ICJW Executive, has invited all 36 global affiliates of the organization would mobilize their members to protest Nasrin’s condition and imprisonment.
On International Women’s Day 2021, NCJWC has asked the Minister of Women and Gender Equality to focus on Nasrin’s case. We have written to Michele Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to urge Nasrin’s freedom and we have hosted an event showing the stunning film “Nasrin”. (www.nasrinfilm.com/canada-vod).
We urge everyone who cares about human rights to see the film and register a protest. Nasrin has put herself and her family at great risk to advocate for human rights in a country that prohibits such behaviour. She does this because she feels it is the right thing to do. That’s why Nasrin matters.
(Published in Niv online magazine, March 2021)