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Human Rights in Iran

Colleagues. I am honoured to rise today to participate in our Senate day of recognition for Iranian political prisoners.

Permit me to commend my colleague, Senator Linda Frum for proposing and organizing this day in the Senate. Senator Frum has spoken and written passionately about the tragedy that we are drawing attention to today.

Iran’s record of poor prison conditions, torture and ill treatment of political prisoners is well documented. Their abject disregard for human rights is apparent by the alarming increase in executions, the restrictions on freedom of assembly, and the open intimidation of rights defenders, especially lawyers.

Many prominent Iranian defenders are in prison or exile. Security forces routinely harass and detain them without charge, and few if any independent human rights organizations openly operate in the country.

Today I stand to bring your attention to one such prominent lawyer and human rights activist – Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Nasrin Sotoudeh was born in 1963 to a middle class Iranian family. She studied international law and passed the bar exam in 1995. Nasrin is married to Reza Khandan to whom she refers as “truly a modern man.”  They have two young children.

In her legal career, Nasrin represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists and politicians following the disputed June 2009 Iranian presidential elections, as well as prisoners who had been sentenced to death. Her clients have included noted journalist Isa Saharkhiz and Heshmat Tabarzadi, the head of Iran's banned opposition group, the Democratic Front.

Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security. She has spent long periods in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin Prison since.

In January 2011, Iranian authorities sentenced Sotoudeh to eleven years in prison; barred her from practicing law and from leaving the country for 20 years. In September 2011, a branch of Tehran Appeals Court reduced her sentence to six years in prison, and the ban from practicing law to ten years. Regardless, despite having never committed a justifiable crime, Nasrin is still in prison.

To make matters worse, Nasrin Sotoudeh has been denied visitors. Why? Because she refuses to wear the chador stating that it is a violation of her rights. A chador is a long open cloak worn by Iranian women on top of their hijab. So even though, last month, the Iranian judiciary announced that it was no longer mandatory to wear a chador, Nasrin is still not allowed to see her husband and two young children.

Nasrin Sotoudeh is a very accomplished woman. Most recently, she was awarded the 2011 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. The PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award honours writers who have fought courageously in the face of adversity for the right to freedom on expression.

In 2008, she was awarded the Human Rights prize by the International Committee on Human Rights. Last October, Nasrin Sotoudeh became the recipient of PEN Canada’s Empty Chair Award for the 32nd International Festival of Authors. The Empty Chair Award is presented to writers not permitted to travel freely or to appear at literary festivals around the world.

She also received PEN Canada’s One Humanity Award given to a writer whose work “transcends the boundaries of national divides and inspires connections across cultures.”

Well deserved awards to a truly inspirational woman. As a member of the Senate of Canada I condemn the Iranian regime’s deplorable abuse of human rights and call for the immediate release of unlawfully held prisoner Nasrin Sotoudeh. Thank you.