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US 'Deeply Concerned' by Iran's Re-Arrest of Rights Lawyer


FILE - Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh smiles at her home in Tehran, Sept. 18, 2013, after being freed following three years in prison. Iranian security agents re-arrested Sotoudeh at her home on June 13, 2018.

The United States has expressed "deep concern" about Iran's re-arrest of prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was detained Wednesday by security agents at her Tehran home.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert issued a statement Thursday, calling on Iranian authorities to immediately release Sotoudeh and hundreds of other people who she said are "currently imprisoned simply for expressing their views and desires for a better life."

In a Wednesday phone interview with VOA Persian, Sotoudeh's husband, Reza Khandan, said she telephoned him about her arrest because he was not at home at the time. Khandan said Sotoudeh told him the agents were sending her to Tehran's Evin prison to serve a five-year sentence for a conviction handed down in absentia five years ago. He said neither he nor Sotoudeh were given further details of the case.

"If she was sentenced in absentia, why didn't she get a letter or notification saying 'you received this sentence, come and present yourself'?" Khandan asked. He also said the agents who arrested his wife tricked their neighbors into opening the main entrance of their apartment building.

"They rang the doorbell of other apartments claiming they were participating in a betrothal ceremony," Khandan said. "Unfortunately, the neighbors thought that this was something real and opened the entrance to the apartment building, enabling the agents to gain access to our apartment."

Khandan said Sotoudeh told him that the agents did not search or take anything from their home. But he said it was no longer unusual for Iranian authorities to arbitrarily detain his 55-year-old wife.

Sotoudeh's husband broke the news of her latest arrest in a Wednesday Facebook post. His account of how the Iranian agents detained her could not be independently verified.

The London-based rights group Amnesty International called Sotoudeh's arrest an "outrageous attack on a brave and prolific human rights defender." In a Wednesday statement, it said Iranian authorities should release her immediately and unconditionally.

The U.S.-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) also called for Sotoudeh's immediate release and demanded a stop to what it called the Iranian judiciary's "cowardly and unlawful actions of jailing and harassing human rights lawyers."

There was no immediate comment from the Iranian government in state-run media on Sotoudeh's arrest.

Sotoudeh was previously arrested in 2010 and sentenced to six years in prison on charges of hurting national security. Authorities freed her in 2013 after she staged a hunger strike to protest her detention.

Recently, Sotoudeh had defended Iranian women arrested for removing their compulsory hijabs or headscarves during public protests against the Iranian government.

In an interview with CHRI last week, she also criticized the Iranian judiciary, days after it ruled that only 20 government-vetted lawyers can defend clients accused of national security offenses. The list did not include Sotoudeh or any other known human rights defenders. She told CHRI that several human rights lawyers were ready to stage a sit-in to protest the move, which she said violates Iranians' constitutional right to pick their own lawyer.

Nauert said Washington applauds what she called Sotoudeh's "bravery and her fight for the long-suffering victims of the regime."

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Persian Service.