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Iran Letter: Detained Attorney Sotoudeh to Her Children "You Need Freedom, Rule of Law, & Justice"

Nasrin Sotoudeh Outside a Court HearingAttorney Nasrin Sotoudeh represented many activists before she was arrested in September 2010 and sentenced to 11 years in prison and a 20-year ban on legal practice three months later. 

Sotoudeh's term was reduced to six years by an appeals court. Recently, officials punished her for not wearing appropriate clothing by banning visits from her children. She has written them about the situation --- translation by Siavosh Jalili of Persian2English:

My dear Mehraveh and Nima,

Last Monday, the prison officials gave me two contradictory reports. At 2:00pm, the time of the weekly visits, I was told that the judicial authorities have agreed to grant me in-person visits on Thursdays, in addition to the visits through glass partitions on Monday afternoons. However, at 5:00pm the same day, I was told that I was being disciplined for refusing to wear the chador (head-to-toe cover that only leaves face uncovered) during visits- so, I was banned from the Monday visits for three weeks! It is evident that the authorities have formed a disharmonious family. They do not even treat each other with respect and kindness. Chaos is ruling over the decision making processes.

Remember, treat your friends the same way you treat your enemies. An enemy’s hostility can never justify the violence committed by a human toward a foe, let alone toward a friend. I dare tell you that, no matter how they treat me, I bear no resentment and hostility towards those who consider me their enemy- nor will I go down the whirlpool of wrath and hatred they have created.

My dear Mehrvaeh and Nima,

I love you both very much. I wish you happiness and prosperity, like any other parent. I consider you first in every decision I make. One needs to consider the welfare of children in every decision. Receiving visits from you is very important to me. I suffer from not having held you for months. I am in pain from not hearing your voices.

My beloved ones, my actions now will be judged by you one day, whether I like it or not. That is why I want you to know that I will not allow them to take me to the visitation room in illegal attire that they have forced on me. I prefer to be deprived from seeing you during my entire imprisonment term than to allow them to treat me any way they want. [I will not allow] them to force me to wear more hijab (cover) and subject me to additional force and coercion.

My dears, years ago, a law was passed that obligated all Iranian women to wear religious hijab. All women, whether they believed in hijab or not, observed this law. If they did not, they would have been punished, according to the law. Now, the prison officials argue that, since we are their prisoners, we have to wear more cover (chador), even though such a standard has not been set by the law. In fact, political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are exempt from wearing a prison uniform.

I did not act on the basis of “resistance”. I acted to uphold the law in its entirety, and that is why I refused to wear the chador. I did not want my family, and in particular my young children, to realize the pressures and humiliation [in prison] by seeing their mother—who does not usually wear the chador– under the forced cover.

When I appear calm during prison visits, it is to the benefit of prison officials, because I am hiding the effects of the daily psychological pressures from my family. Even though this action may serve the interests of the prison officials, I have no goal but to uphold and observe the law in its “entirety”.

My dear Mehraveh and Nima, my beloved children,

Next to all my social and professional identities, I am proud of being a mother, especially to you two. Being a mother is always on my mind. I am declaring loud and clear: “I am a mother”, and I do not want my children to see me in a forced, coerced, and humiliating form. I do not want my children to think that others can subject them to an illegal act by abusing power.

I know that you require water, food, housing, a family, parents, love, and visits with your mother. However, just as much, you need freedom, social security, the rule of law, and justice. Please be aware that these concepts have not been easily achieved anywhere in the world. Nowhere in the world was the “law” upheld when written on torn sheets of paper. Our insistence on the rule of law is what brings the law to its existence. Thus, you should know that “you” and “I” are forming and building the law together. I kiss you thousands of times. I suffer from not having held you in months, and I hope that the suffering is not in vain.

I love you both,


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