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Iran Rights Lawyer Sent Back to Prison


Jailed Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, seen here in this photo shared on social media prior to her June 2018 imprisonment, had health complications from a recent hunger strike, her husband told VOA Persian in an Oct. 13, 2020, interview.

The husband of an Iranian rights lawyer furloughed from prison last month because of poor health said authorities sent her back to jail Wednesday despite doctors' determination that she needed to visit a heart clinic and otherwise stay home this week to recover from various health problems.

In a Wednesday interview with VOA Persian from their home in Tehran, Reza Khandan said his wife, Nasrin Sotoudeh, received a phone call earlier in the day from Qarchak prison in the southeast of the capital ordering her to report to the jail immediately. He said she went to the prison later Wednesday, abruptly ending a furlough that authorities granted her on November 7 to recover from respiratory and cardiac problems related to her recent hunger strikes in detention.

FILE - Smoke appears to rise from Qarchak women's prison near Tehran, in this photo first published online by Iranian Dervish news outlet Majzooban Noor on Feb. 8, 2019.
FILE - Smoke appears to rise from Qarchak women's prison near Tehran, in this photo first published online by Iranian Dervish news outlet Majzooban Noor on Feb. 8, 2019.

Sotoudeh has been jailed since June 2018 for her legal work in defending women’s rights activists who were arrested for removing their hijabs in public defiance of Iran’s Islamist laws. Rights activists have said Sotoudeh is serving a prison sentence of more than 30 years and must complete 12 years before being eligible for parole.

Khandan told VOA that the Iranian authorities who terminated his wife’s furlough ignored a panel of government doctors who met with her on Monday, reviewed her medical records and determined that she needed more time to resolve various health problems.

He said a heart specialist at the meeting advised Sotoudeh to arrange a visit to the Tehran Heart Center for a CT coronary angiogram in the coming days. The imaging test looks at the arteries that supply blood to the heart to diagnose the cause of chest pain or other symptoms.

Khandan said an infectious-disease specialist at the meeting also told Sotoudeh that she needed to quarantine at home for another two weeks and wear a mask when leaving her room as she recovers from a recent coronavirus infection.

VOA could not independently verify the recommendations of Sotoudeh’s government doctors because it is barred from reporting inside Iran.

COVID, hunger strike

Sotoudeh’s husband previously said she had tested positive for the coronavirus several days after her November 7 temporary release from Qarchak. At the time, her health had been weakened by a 45-day hunger strike that she staged from August to September to protest Iran’s refusal to furlough political prisoners despite their risk of coronavirus exposure in jail.

Sotoudeh began the hunger strike, her second of this year, at Tehran’s Evin prison, where she was detained from June 2018 until her transfer to Qarchak on October 20. Toward the end of her latest hunger strike in late September, Iranian state media said authorities sent her to Tehran’s Taleghani hospital for five days for emergency treatment before returning her to Evin.

In her latest international accolade, Sotoudeh received an award Thursday in a virtual ceremony from the Right Livelihood Foundation, a Stockholm-based charity.

The foundation, established in 1980 to “honor and support courageous people solving global problems,” recognizes several laureates each year with awards dubbed the “Alternative Nobel Prize” by international rights activists.

In a voice recording made last week from her Tehran home and broadcast during Thursday’s ceremony, Sotoudeh described her award as a tremendous honor.

“Under these difficult conditions, [the award] has provided me and my family with renewed energy to carry on my path,” Sotoudeh said. “While I’m deeply grateful for the honor, I would also like to draw your attention to the plight of all political prisoners in Iran and ask that you join us in calling for ensuring their health and freedom.”

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Click here for the original Persian version of the story.