Tehran, Iran – Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been temporarily released from prison after concerns mounted over her deteriorating health.
The 57-year-old “went on furlough with the approval of the prosecutor presiding over women’s prison”, Mizan, the judiciary’s news website, said without providing any further details.
Reza Khandan, Sotoudeh’s husband, confirmed the release in a tweet.
“Friends, Nasrin came out on furlough a few minutes ago,” he said.
دوستان، نسرين دقايقي پيش به مرخصي آمد
— Reza Khandan (@RezaKhandan4) November 7, 2020
Sotoudeh was arrested two years ago on charges of collusion, spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader. She was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes in 2019.
In September, Sotoudeh was hospitalised after her physical condition worsened following weeks of hunger strike. Her strike ended in late September after 46 days.
She had gone on hunger strike to call for the release of political prisoners and directing attention towards their conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tens of thousands of prisoners have been temporarily released from overcrowded Iranian prisons since February to curb the spread of the coronavirus. A number of them have since been required to return and the initiative has not included some political prisoners.
The worst pandemic in the Middle East has so far killed nearly 38,000 people and infection numbers in Iran have seen a sharp increase since September.
On October 20, Sotoudeh was transferred from Evin Prison in Tehran to Qarchak, a women’s prison outside the city that has been blacklisted under United Nations human rights sanctions.
At the time, her husband Khandan said in a tweet that she was told to prepare to be transferred to the hospital, but was instead moved to Qarchak.
Sotoudeh’s temporary release comes weeks after two senior judiciary official visited Qarchak and reportedly spent hours talking to prisoners about their conditions.
At the time, Mizan reported that they issued “immediate orders” to answer a number of requests by inmates, without releasing details.
Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who has been held in Iran for more than two years as part of a 10-year jail sentence on charges of espionage, was also in Qarchak at the time and met with the officials.
She was returned to Evin prison days later and remains there.
French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, detained in Iran since June 2019 on charges of conspiring against national security, was temporarily released from prison on October 3.
Prominent Iranian human rights activist and journalist Narges Mohammadi was also released from prison in early October after her sentence was reduced.
Sotoudeh, a winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, is required by law to serve at least 12 years of her sentence before being eligible for conditional release.
The internationally-renowned human rights lawyer, whose release has been requested by the UN and human rights groups outside Iran, had been imprisoned before.
She had also spent three years behind bars after representing people arrested during mass protests in 2009 against the controversial reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
During her first years in jail, Sotoudeh protested against conditions in Evin and a ban on seeing her son and daughter by staging two hunger strikes. She was released in 2013.
Just over two weeks ago, the first court session was held for a case concerning Mehraveh Khandan, Sotoudeh’s 20-year-old daughter.
She was called to court concerning a visit she had with her mother at Evin over a year earlier.
A member of the prison staff reportedly took issue with how she wore her hijab.
In a tweet announcing Mehraveh Khandan’s court session, her father Reza Khandan called it “a continuation of security pressures on Nasrin and our family members”.