Tuesday, March 19, 2019


The news that the Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoundeh was convicted on 12th March to 33 years in prison (38 if we count a previous sentence) and to 148 lashes shocked the entire world. Nasrin was accused of representing several women who took their hijabs off during a protest against the obligation of wearing it. By doing that, she also took a stand against the application of an additional note to Article 48 of the Criminal Code, which denies the right to appoint a trusted lawyer to defendants of certain crimes, including those against national security. Therefore, the judge accused her of "collusion against national security", "propaganda against the state", "incitement to corruption and prostitution" and "appearing in public without hijab". The news of her sentence was first released on Facebook by her husband Reza Khandan, after receiving a phone call from jail.

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Fig. 1 - Nasrin Sotoudeh (source: BBC)
Nasrin Sotoudeh is one of the most well-know lawyer in Iran. She has focused her entire career on the protection of human rights and she has represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists and politicians following the disputed June 2009 Iranian presidential elections as well as prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors. Sotoudeh was arrested the first time in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and was imprisoned in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, where she currently is. In January 2011, Iranian authorities sentenced Sotoudeh to 11 years in prison, and barred her from working again as a lawyer and from getting out of the country for 20 years. Later that year, an appeals court reduced her sentence to six years, and her practice ban to ten. She protested against her unfair conviction and treatment in prison with several hunger strikes, especially when denied visits and phone calls from her family. 

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Fig.2 - A quote by Nasrin Sotoudeh (source: https://twitter.com/ICHRI)

The response to her sentence from the international community was immediate: the Center for Human Rights in Iran and the UN condemned her sentence and Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty said: “Jailing a human rights defender for her peaceful activities is abhorrent".

This was the hardest condemnation inflicted in recent years against human rights defenders in Iran, confirming that the authorities, encouraged by the complete impunity enjoyed by those responsible for human rights violations, are exacerbating the repression and Iran's reputation as oppressor of women's rights.

Giulia Mizzon

To sign the petition to free Nasrin, visit Amnesty's website



Thursday, March 7, 2019


Fig.1 - People demonstrating in the streets of Venezuela
(Source: thinkreadact.com)

What is currently happening in Venezuela is far from only being a political crisis. The widespread human rights violations are forcing 3 million people to flee and seek asylum in other countries, in what it is referred to be the biggest refugee crisis in the history of Latin America. 

How did the country reach this point? In 2013, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro won the elections amid reports of corruption and unfair counting of votes. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests calling for the removal of the President at first, and then accusing him of being responsible for the economic crisis. As a matter of fact, shortly after Maduro came to power, the price of oil dropped, and because 98% of Venezuela's export earnings come from oil, the state of the country declined rapidly. The government also started printing more money, regularly increasing the minimum wage, and implementing price controls on several products. Maduro did not take responsibility for the damages, and blamed the United States and other countries for starting an “economic war” against Venezuela. 

In May 2018, the opposition contested the results of the elections for the second mandate of President Maduro and in January 2019, the opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself president ad-interim, as ruled by the Constitution in case the elections are proved to be rigged. Despite the recognition by the European Union, the United States, and most Latin American countries of Mr Guaidó as the legitimate leader of the country, Maduro is still refusing to step down. 

While the political crisis sparked in 2013, much of the current unrest in Venezuela can be traced back to March 2017, when the Supreme Court of Justice - backed by the government - moved to take over the National Assembly, where the opposition held a majority. This triggered mass protests from April to July that were repressed by the Maduro administration through often-violent crackdowns and jailing opponents. Violence has not stopped since. 

Fig.2 - Juan Guaidó, self-proclaimed president of Venezuela (Source: newstalkzb.co.nz)

The chaos in Venezuela caused a shortage of medicines, food and water, and a generalized unsafe environment for the political opponents who are facing the risk of being jailed. Getting arrested in Venezuela often means being subjected to serious abuses that in some cases amount to torture—including severe beatings, electric shocks, asphyxiation, and sexual abuse. Children and teenagers have been reportedly arrested as well, and jailed protesters have been said to have frequently been tried in military courts, which is against international law. Extra judicially killings are also worrying the international community. 

Nicolás Maduro continues to deny that the country is experiencing a human rights crisis. Therefore, he has not accepted the international humanitarian assistance that has been repeatedly offered. In some cases, convoys of trucks carrying food aid and medical supplies set off from border towns in Colombia and Brazil were attacked and burnt, and a ship carrying 250 tons of humanitarian aid from Puerto Rico was forced to turn back when the Venezuelan Navy threatened to open fire. As a result of the violence, none of the shipments has made it past Venezuelan border blockades so far. 

The impunity for the abuses and the violations of human rights above has been common since former Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz was fired in August 2017. In early February 2019, the Lima Group, a coalition of several Latin American countries and Canada, called for the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid and for international governments to refrain from doing business with the nation “in oil, gold and other assets.” Moreover, on 26 September 2018, six countries (Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru) referred Venezuela to the International Criminal Court. It is not clear how and when the humanitarian crisis will end, but what is certain is that the people are in need of assistance and justice. 

Giulia Mizzon

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