Imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer begins starvation strike


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A prominent Iranian human rights lawyer has begun a hunger strike seeking better prison conditions and the release of political prisoners amid the pandemic, her husband said Thursday.

Reza Khandan told The Associated Press his wife Nasrin Sotoudeh began the strike Tuesday and he feared it would exacerbate her chronic gastrointestinal and foot problems.

Iran has the highest number of virus-related deaths in the region with 19,162 after 174 died since Wednesday. The country reported more than 336,000 confirmed cases as of Thursday.

Sotoudeh, a mother of two, was arrested in 2018 on charges of collusion and propaganda against the system and eventually was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. Under the law she must serve at least 12 years, said Khandan.

He said Sotoudeh told authorities she would begin a hunger strike to protest the “lawless atmosphere” in Iran’s prisons.

Khandan said Sotoudeh believes political prisoners have been deprived of basic rights such as the right to be furloughed amid the pandemic, choosing their own lawyers and the right to a fair trial.

Khandan said Sotoudeh had a 10-minute phone conversation with him Wednesday. Prisoners are allowed phone calls three times per week.

Earlier this year, the 57-year-old Sotoudeh — known for defending activists, opposition politicians and women prosecuted for removing their headscarves,— held a five-day hunger strike demanding prisoners be released to protect them from the coronavirus.

Following the pandemic, Iran furloughed more than 100,000 prisoners, more than 40% of the country’s total. Iran has 210,000 prisoners, 60% of them robbery and drug related.

In 2012, Sotoudeh won the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for her work on high-profile cases, including those of convicts on death row for offenses committed as minors.

Following the 2009 post-election turmoil and protests after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sotoudeh spent some three years in prison.