May 19, 2011

Law school honors Iranian human rights attorney

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Southern Illinois University School of Law honored an Iranian human rights attorney and feminist activist during commencement ceremonies last week.

Nasrin Sotoudeh received the law school’s 2011 Rule of Law Citation during the May 14 ceremonies. The citation is a formal recognition by the law school faculty of the important tradition of the legal profession that “requires lawyers to stand firm in support of liberty and justice in the face of oppression and, by their words and actions, to honor and support the Rule of Law, even at great personal risk.”

Arrested in September, Sotoudeh was sentenced to 11 years in prison by Iranian judicial authorities in January and barred from practicing law or leaving the country for 20 years after she was found guilty of “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the regime.” According to the law school, Sotoudeh is well known for her passionate defense of Iran’s most legally vulnerable citizens: “Juvenile offenders facing the death penalty, human rights campaigners, and prisoners of conscience.”

A total of 99 students earned law degrees in ceremonies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Shryock Auditorium.

A commencement hood and scroll placed on an empty chair in the front row with law school faculty symbolizes the law school standing with lawyers who are suffering for the Rule of Law.

“As lawyers, we are part of the global community of lawyers, and it is important for our students to recognize the significance of our role in protecting the Rule of Law,” said Cynthia L. Fountaine, law school dean.

“Our graduates will have the privilege of working in a system where the Rule of Law is stable; however, we should never take this stability for granted. The story of Nasrin Sotoudeh’s treatment in Iran will leave a lasting impression upon our graduates as an example of what can happen when the Rule of Law is threatened,” Fountaine said. “It reminds us that, in many parts of the world, people risk their lives to practice law. We frequently talk about the importance of the Rule of Law, but this citation recognizes the enormous sacrifices that lawyers should be prepared to make to serve society by emphasizing the rule of law.”

According to reports, Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, said the main charges against his wife came from interviews given to foreign news outlets, although “there is nowhere in the world, not even in Iran, where speaking to foreign media is a crime.” The couple has two children.

In January, the U.S. Department of State strongly condemned the verdict against Sotoudeh, calling for her immediate release.

“Her conviction is part of a systematic attempt on the part of Iranian authorities to silence the defense of democracy and human rights in Iran,” the state department said in a statement. “It is one in a series of harsh sentences targeting the lawyers of Iran’s human rights community which perseveres despite threats, torture, and imprisonment. We call on the Iranian government to address the international community’s ‘deep concern at serious human rights violations in Iran’ as expressed in the December United Nations General Assembly resolution and to respect its human rights obligations, including its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”