The early release from prison on September 18, 2013 of Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, is a welcome first indication that the Iranian authorities may be addressing the dire state of freedom of expression in the country, said PEN International. Sotoudeh is the recipient of the 2011 American PEN Centre’s Barbara Goldsmith award, PEN Canada’s 2011 One Humanity award and the 2012 Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought. The grounds on which she was released from her six-year prison term remain unclear, according to her husband, Reza Khandan, in reports carried by news agencies.
As news spread of the unexpected release, Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee said, “A fearless defender of the human rights of people in Iran is freed. In prison, she remained fiercely committed to human rights; she suffered solitary confinement for her hunger strike to protest the travel ban on her daughter; and the conditions of her incarceration were abysmal. We welcome this wonderful news, about a woman who has been an inspiration to so many.”
“I have just returned from PEN International’s 79th World Congress in Iceland, where delegates discussed the very serious restrictions on freedom of expression in Iran,” Botsford Fraser added, “We are calling on the Iranian authorities to match the steps they have taken today by releasing all other writers currently imprisoned in Iran solely for exercising their right to legitimate freedom of expression”.
It remains unclear whether Sotoudeh continues to be subject to a 10-year ban on travel abroad and practising as a lawyer. PEN International has long been concerned at the situation of freedom of expression in Iran and currently is aware of over 20 other writers, journalists and bloggers detained solely on account of their peaceful expression of their opinions or advocacy of others’ rights.
Nasrin Sotoudeh is an honorary member of the Canadian, Scottish, Finnish and Swedish PEN centres.