Breaking the Language Barrier on Human Rights

Nasrin Sotoudeh Speaks Out on Iran’s Human Rights Violations

November 09, 2010

UPDATE | November 11th: Although Nasrin Sotoudeh broke her “dry” hunger strike (also no water), she is continuing with a regular hunger strike (no food).

November 10th: Nasrin Sotoudeh has ended her dry hunger strike in Evin prison, according to BBC.

Editor’s Note: On December 10, 2008, human rights lawyer and women’s rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh was stopped at Imam Khomeini airport from travelling to Italy to receive the first annual Human Rights Prize awarded by Human Rights International, Italy. She was approached by security guards who seized her passport and informed her that she was not permitted to travel. Since Nasrin Sotoudeh was not able to accept her award in person, her speech was recorded and released on the Internet instead. (Scroll down for video and English translation)


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پیام نسرین ستوده


By Nasrin Sotoudeh
Translation by Tour Irani, Persian2English

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First, please allow me to convey my congratulations to the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the most important human rights achievements that was established at great costs. I am proud to be with all of you on this occasion and I am honored to receive this prize. I thank all of those who have worked on setting up this meeting. I hope these efforts will help advance the human rights causes around the world, including in my country Iran.

While I am honored to have received this prize, I would like to also share some issues with you. I am sure you have all heard stories about the student, labor and teacher movements and human rights violations in Iran including the violation of the rights of women, children, and civil rights movement activists. Aside from [providing] a background into the human rights violations in Iran, I would also like to talk about the consequences, like longterm jail sentences and executions, that Iran’s civil rights society has had to pay for their efforts in the last decade.

The efforts of student activists, workers, teachers, women and ethnic minorities, especially our Kurdish compatriots, have been confronted with great judicial challenges. On many occasions it has been very difficult to defend these activists because many of the case files, including for political prisoners, are [presented] in contradiction to the articles in the Iranian Constitution. Also, the judges have been given authority to prevent lawyers from participating in the initial phases of investigation. This is the background on the violation of the rights of political defendants.

On the other hand, the existence of laws that enable authorities to try civil rights activists and [people] in opposition to the government on the charge of being a Mohareb ‘enemy of God’ creates great challenges for civil rights activists. Of course this [charge] results in longterm prison sentences or even execution.

The lawyers for civil rights activists face great challenges. Not only do they [have to deal with] the existing legal limitations to defend their clients, but they are also threatened with imprisonment [to discourage them from] taking on [some] cases. On many occasions, lawyers who have defended civil rights activists have also been sentenced to prison to endure a sentence issued by the court. But the movement that is adamant on defending civil rights activists through legal means still insists on peaceful methods to pursue its objectives.

Additionally, I would like to share a few points regarding women’s rights activities in Iran and its 100 year old struggle. Yet, in the last 30 years, the demands of [the women’s rights activists] have reached a point of transparency and clarity. They are demanding changes to the laws that allow only half the compensation for female victims of crimes as compared to men. This means if a woman and a man get into a traffic accident, the compensation given to the woman is half the compensation of a man’s.

Women in Iran demand changes to the laws that value the testimony of women as half the testimony of men. They demand changes to the divorce laws that give men absolute control and the right to have four ‘permanent’ wives and an unlimited number of ‘temporary’ wives.

Iranian women are demanding changes to the laws that set the legal age [of maturity] for girls at nine years old and 15 years for boys. This means that nine year old little girls can be in danger of execution! These laws allow a girl to only receive half of the inheritance a boy receives, and the inheritance [that a wife] receives from her husband is even less than [half]! These laws set the legal age to wed at thirteen years old for a girl while also denying her the right to divorce until she reaches the age of puberty. Obviously these laws cannot be condoned by women who, by official counts, occupy 70% of the university seats in Iran.

In protest of these laws and in search of finding creative ways to change the discriminatory laws, a campaign was launched called the One Million Signatures Campaign. The members sought to gather signatures from regular men and women in the streets. They went door to door to create discussions on the discriminatory laws. They intended to hand the signatures over to the Parliament in Iran. And of course, they paid a high price for this campaign.

The consequences of this creative method [to bring change to the laws] was arrests, court summons, convictions, and travel bans. For example, for 80 days, from January 2008 to March 2008, a new case would open every four days. In the past few years, during the hardest years of this movement, women received harsh sentences [E.g. five years in prison] and flogging.

Iranian women, having clear and open demands, declared their commitment to non-violence, just like many other women’s movements across the world. Their latest activity [includes protesting] the Family Protection bill that gives men the right to wed many wives. Women’s rights activists went to the Parliament and demanded the annulment of this proposal. Although this action caused the Parliament to delay the ratification of this proposal, contradictory remarks made by officials has caused Iranian women to continue being concerned about the [new bill], which has resulted in them continuing on with their activities. The women are monitoring this bill, and if need be, they will announce it to the world through civil activities. And of course, they will pay the price for this act.

I would like to express my gratitude for the creation of the global village which brings about the possibility of continual communication among human rights activists. At the same time I would like to warn against the entrance of fundamentalists to this global village. Entering this global village without proper identification is quite easy. Just like we enter this village rather easily, the regressive forces are able to do the same and they leave their marks.  I am using this media to ask for the support of the civil rights societies in Italy. I would like to ask them to pay more attention to the human rights violations in Iran. I would like to ask them to continue in accompanying us in this struggle.

30 years ago in Iran it was illegal to execute children, but the viewpoints of those who make decisions in the name of religion have turned the society around so much that today nine year old girls face the danger of execution.

I would like to remember those who have carried the torch of human rights in Iran for so long and those who have been leaders in this movement. I would like to [acknowledge] the efforts of Mrs. Shirin Ebadi who, despite continual threats against her and her family, still insists on non-violent methods and pursues legal means. I would also like to [acknowledge] Mrs. Mehrangiz Kar, who has paid a heavy price [by] enduring prison and serious health problems and was forced to leave Iran.

I would like to remember the classical Italian lawyers who have left a great impression on criminal laws and laws regarding victims of crimes committed around the world. It was through [their] efforts that even before the declaration of human rights, the world began to regard criminals and victims in a different light, resulting in the protection of the rights of the accused; it was through the struggles of Beccaria, Andy Kofferi, and Rafael Garofalo, who were pioneers in protecting the rights of the accused and the investigations of the charges without [displaying] any prejudices or [need] for vengeance. They also struggled to eliminate heavy sentences like capital punishment. Undoubtedly their views have greatly affected the formation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I believe that just like how your country’s lawyers made great strides through their tireless efforts and [were able to] revise criminal laws, we also, through our struggles and efforts, will be able to help revise the laws that we object to. Even though we are living in a difficult time, millions before us have also trotted on the path to freedom and democracy. Just like they have succeeded, we will also overcome the hardships.

ALSO READ: Rights groups battle Iran and S.Arabia on UN Women board

ALSO WATCH English subtitled video with Nasrin Sotoudeh’s family on her arrest

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    1. Nasrin Sotoudeh Needs URGENT Help: Continues with Hunger Strike | Persian2English
    2. Nasrin Sotoudeh Continues with Hunger Strike | Freedom Messenger
    3. Nasrin Sotoudeh Continues with Hunger Strike | Iran Briefing

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