Filmmaker Jeff Kaufman Gives Update On Detained Iranian Human Rights Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

Documentary director Jeff Kaufman has given an update on the situation for detained award-winning Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh following an in-depth call with her husband Reza Khandan.

Kaufman and his casting director and producer wife Marcia Ross became close with Khandan while making their 2020 Olivia Colman-narrated documentary Nasrin.

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The immersive work follows Sotoudeh’s battle to defend human rights in the face of abuses by Iran’s hardline Islamic Republic regime.

“This morning we had an in-depth conversation with Nasrin’s indefatigable husband Reza Khandan. He authorized us to release this update,” wrote Kaufman in a note sent out on Monday evening.

Sotoudeh was among a number of women arrested at the funeral on October 29 of tragic Tehran teenager Armita Geravand, who went into a coma and died after allegedly being assaulted by the country’s morality police for not wearing Iran’s obligatory veil.

The detainees were reportedly badly beaten by a group of police who charged the people attending the funeral.

Sotoudeh’s glasses were broken in the assault, and she later reported to her husband that she was covered in bruises, had swelling at the back of her head and a prolonged headache.

Kaufman said Khandan had revealed that Sotoudeh is being held in Qarchak Women’s Prison, a former industrial chicken farm an hour’s drive outside of central Tehran.

“She is being held in an open, over-crowded section that gives her a bed and nothing else. Unlike the regular cells, this denies her access to a TV, or a shared refrigerator to store food, and unlike most other prisoners she can’t purchase fruit or vegetables. As Reza said, those small options can make a big difference in a prisoner’s life,” wrote Kaufman.

Sotoudeh was sentenced in March 2019 to 38 years in prison, which was later reduced to 10 years, but has been on medical release since July 2021 due to a heart problem.

“Most of the people violently arrested at the funeral of Armita Geravand have been released on bail, but there is still no word about what awaits Nasrin. The prosecutor did say that her medical furlough has been suspended, although legally that is supposed to be a doctor’s decision,” wrote Kaufman.

“Reza has been able to speak with her, and get her a new pair of eyeglasses, and he was able to bring medicine to another inmate. However, he has not been allow to see Nasrin in person. Some of the pain that she felt from being beaten has subsided, but she is now experiencing some troubling heart pain.”

Kauffman noted that Sotoudeh had undergone an angioplasty, a procedure that stretches open a narrowed or blocked artery, when she first came home on medical leave in 2021.

“The officials won’t let her see the prison doctor because she “categorically refuses to wear a hijab.” Before she was arrested, her regular doctor expressed concern about strain on her heart and said she should, ‘Avoid stress.’ As you can see, that has not been possible,” wrote Kaufman.

Khandan said that if the Revolutionary Court decided to reimpose Nasrin’s remaining sentence she would be transferred to Evin Prison.

Due to Sotoudeh’s stature and worldwide support, Khandan suggested that the authorities might be wary of forcing his wife to serve out her sentence.

“So at this time, we don’t know what happens next,” wrote Kaufman. “Years ago when Marcia and I approached Nasrin about making a documentary about her life, her first reaction was that she’d consider the idea only if it was also about all the other people in Iran’s women’s right movement.”

“That says a lot about her unique character. It also speaks to the fact that as we move forward, when we vigorously call for her release, we should also demand freedom for all political people. That would please Nasrin.”

Sotoudeh has been in and out of jail since 2010 for her human rights work as a lawyer, which has included representing political activists and women who removed the obligatory head scarf.

The lawyer is also known in the cinema world for her appearance in Jafar Panahi’s 2015 Berlinale Golden Bear winner Taxi, in which she boards his vehicle on route to see her then client Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian woman who was detained in 2014 for going to see a male volleyball match.

Sotoudeh and Panahi had previously the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament dedicated to people who in different ways have defended human rights.

She was also a recipient of the  Freedom to Write Award (2011), Franz Werfel Human Rights Award (2019) and Right Livelihood Award (2020).

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