A joint statement of Nordic PEN centres on Iran: Drop charges against human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

A statement by four Nordic PEN Centres, 16 March 2019

Finnish PEN together with Danish PEN, Norwegian PEN, and Swedish PEN has signed a joint statement on Iran demanding dropping of charges against human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish PEN centres are gravely concerned for the well-being of Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was handed over a total 38 years in jail and 148 lashes in national security-related offences. Ms Sotoudeh, an award-winning human rights defender and an Honorary Member of PEN Finland, is known for her role as a defender of rights of women detained for refusing mandatory covering of their hair in public. She was arrested in June 2018 for defending women prosecuted for appearing in public without a headscarf, or hijab. She was charged with spreading propaganda against the state, insulting the country’s supreme leader and spying.

We are appalled by the wrongful conviction of Sotoudeh. We condemn the ruling not only as a grave violation of rights of the lawyer in question, but also for the fact that it raises questions on the judicial process itself. The crackdown on dissenting voices in Iran is a direct violation of the principles of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.

Defending human rights is not a crime

Lawyers such as Nasrin Sotoudeh are doing priceless human rights work by representing suppressed voices in a time of veiled judicial crackdown on civil society in Iran. She is a symbol of civil courage. The mother of two, she was also arrested in 2010 and handed over a sentence of 11 years of imprisonment in 2011 on similar charges. She was released in 2013 under growing international condemnation. Since the revolution of 1979, Iran’s powerful clergy establishment remained in control of the state. Arrests, tortures and enforced disappearances of dissidents have become a pattern in Iran in recent years. The sentencing of Sotoudeh is a clear manifestation that Iranian judicial machinery, dominated by hardliners, has become an instrument of the ultra-conservative clergy that suppress dissident voices.   

We, the Nordic PEN centres, stand with Nasrin Sotoudeh’s right to freedom of expression as enshrined in international charters and various global conventions.

We urge Iranian authorities to:

  1. Ensure that the arbitrary charges against Nasrin Sotoudeh are dropped and she gets immediate and unconditional release;
  2. Ensure that she, without delay, has regular and unrestricted access to her family and lawyers of her own choosing; that she has an effective opportunity to appeal the verdict and that she receives all necessary medical treatment;
  3. Immediately release all writers, journalists and human rights defenders who are under trial for expressing their legitimate rights to freedom of expression;
  4. Uphold the independence of the judiciary;
  5. Investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment during detention;
  6. Put an end to acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against all human rights defenders in Iran. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by United Nations General Assembly.

We urge our governments, Nordic Council, European Union, the United Nations and others to:

  1. Scrutinize Iran’s attack on dissident voices and put pressure on Iranian government to ensure release of country’s imprisoned human rights defenders including Nasrin Sotoudeh;
  2. Press Iranian government to respect rights of women and adhere to its obligations to international covenants, conventions and treaties in which Iran is a state party;
  3. Use their leverage to press Iranian government to affect changes.


Veera Tyhtilä

President of Finnish PEN

Jesper Bengtsson

President of Swedish PEN

William Nygaard

President of Norwegian PEN

Per Øhrgaard

President of Danish PEN

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