Iranian human rights lawyer stages protest over ban from practice

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 22, 2014 9:06 AM

By Michelle Moghtader

DUBAI (Reuters) - Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh said on Wednesday she would protest outside the Iranian Bar Association offices in Tehran until it reversed a decision to ban her from practicing law for three years.

Sotoudeh was sentenced to six years in jail in 2010 and banned from practice after being convicted of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security. Her case came to international attention in 2012 when she embarked on a 50-day hunger strike against a travel ban on her daughter.

The United States and human rights campaigners like Amnesty International criticized the Islamic Republic over the case and she was freed in September 2013 ahead of a visit to the United Nations by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, soon after he swept to election in part on promises of liberal reforms at home.

"From the first day of my arrest four years ago, my interrogator said that he would use all of his powers to try to stop me from practicing," Sotoudeh told Reuters during her second day of protest outside the Bar Association in Tehran.

"Now, after four years, I think that my interrogator, with the help of my colleagues to certify it, was successful in achieving his goal," she said, holding up a placard reading "Work Rights, Dissident Rights".

Last week, Iran's Bar Association, under pressure from conservative hardliners who dominate the judiciary and have largely blocked Rouhani's attempts to ease political repression, banned her from practice, enforced that part of her 2010 sentence.

In 2011, human rights advocates criticized the association for remaining silent when Sotoudeh and several other lawyers belonging to the bar were prosecuted over political offences.

Sotoudeh said she would stop protesting once the right of dissidents to work and the bar's independence were restored.

Sotoudeh was accompanied in her protest by 15 other people, including human and women's rights activists. "People walk by and tell me, 'My heart is with you,'" she said. There were no reports of police action to stop the protest.

A Bar Association spokesman said Sotoudeh was not the first Iranian lawyer to see their license suspended. "Those that commit violations are banned," he said, without elaborating.

Sotoudeh said she believed the security forces and judiciary were determined to enforce the ban in particular because since her release she had resumed her work on human rights cases.

"For years, the Iranian government has been trying to deny dissidents the right to live, the right to education and employment. I am protesting this," she said in a statement posted on her husband's Facebook page on Monday evening.

Sotoudeh said she hoped her action would help Iranians get a judiciary and lawyers free from political interference.

But parliament, another hub of security-minded hardliners, is debating a bill to curb the Bar Association's nominal autonomy. One amendment, Sotoudeh said, would subject candidates for the bar's supervisory board to judiciary approval.

Analysts said passage of this legislation could make bans such as the one on Sotoudeh more common.

(Reporting By Michelle Moghtader; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich)