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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Famed Iranian rights lawyer reportedly jailed and beaten

By Leily Nikounazar

A prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was arrested and severely beaten, her husband said Monday — one of several activists taken into custody at the funeral in Tehran of a girl who was fatally injured after a reported confrontation with the enforcers of Iran’s strict dress code for women.

The activists were arrested Sunday at the funeral of Armita Geravand, a 16-year-old who died last week after what many believe was an encounter over not covering her hair on Tehran’s subway, in defiance of the law imposed by the Shiite Islamic government.

Sotoudeh, 60, is renowned for representing women who have not worn a hijab, the traditional headscarf, while in public, and for refusing to wear one herself. She has been imprisoned several times and, most recently, had been convicted at a secret trial in 2019 of security-related crimes but was released in 2021 because she suffers from heart disease and other ailments.

Her husband, Reza Khandan, said in an interview that she had called him in the middle of the night to tell him what had happened, including that her glasses were broken in custody.

“I think the broken glasses say enough. Nasrin also confirmed the beating and mentioned that it was bad,” he said. When she was taken for a court appearance Monday morning, he brought an intact pair of her glasses, he added, but the guards refused to give them to her.

Then she was transferred to Qarchak, a notorious women’s prison outside Tehran.

The Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, accused Sotoudeh of “violating hijab rules” and “acting against the psychological security of society,” an offense that according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran does not exist in Iran’s penal code.

“I have heard that Nasrin had refused to wear a hijab until the very last moment before attending the hearing at Evin court,” Khandan said.

She had focused recently on her medical care and her family, not activism, “yet Armita’s case affected her deeply and she could not stay silent,” he said. “She already packed her jail suitcase before leaving to attend the funeral.”

The case of Geravand remains murky. Iranian state television has broadcast security camera video of her stepping onto a subway train with her hair uncovered Oct. 1 and then being carried off the train minutes later, apparently unconscious. Authorities have not released video from inside the subway car.

Farzad Seifikaran, a journalist with Radio Zamaneh, reported that witnesses said that after officers enforcing the dress code confronted Geravand and two friends, one of the officers pushed her and she struck her head, causing a cerebral hemorrhage. The government said she collapsed from low blood sugar because she had skipped breakfast.

She was declared brain-dead Oct. 23, as reported by state-owned media.

Her case has drawn parallels to that of Mahsa Amini, who died last year in the custody of the “morality police” who had arrested her, charging that she had violated the hijab law. Her death prompted some of the largest protests in more than four decades of theocratic rule, which Iran’s security forces suppressed violently, causing hundreds of deaths, according to human rights groups.

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