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Source: Washington Post

Feb 15, 2023

By Jason Rezaian

Iran’s freedom movement isn’t faltering, but the price some of its most committed figures are being forced to pay is becoming increasingly steep.The Islamic republic has been feigning to ease repression by releasing large numbers of prisoners arrested during recent protests against the regime. But it’s a ruse. In reality, authorities are doubling down on personally targeting individuals who have long records of standing up for basic human rights.

Human rights lawyer and activist Nasrin Sotoudeh is once again among the prime targets. In and out of prison since 2010 and currently on medical furlough, earlier this month, Sotoudeh was a recipient of the State Department’s Global Human Rights Defender award.

Last week, she gave an exclusive interview to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, calling for the release of her friend, the hunger-striking activist Farhad Meysami. Graphic images of his emaciated body circulated broadly on social media. Meysami’s alleged crime was advocating women’s rights and protesting both the compulsory hijab and the use of the death penalty — demands that in any normal society would never be answered with such harsh reprisals.

Clearly responding to a public shocked by the photos and spurred on by Sotoudeh’s eloquence, Iranian authorities released Meysami.

But the story doesn’t end there. It never does.

On Monday, Iran’s judiciary announced that Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, must report to prison on Sunday to begin serving a six-year sentence issued by the country’s revolutionary court in 2019 — on charges nearly identical to the ones for which Meysami had been serving time.

From left to right, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Dr. Farhad Meysami and Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan. (Nasrin Sotoudeh)

Iranians are not fooled by this shell game. But that’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Iranian authorities want to make their brutality conspicuous and obvious. It sends a clear message about the strict limits on dissent they are intent on enforcing.

And the seemingly haphazard way in which Khandan’s 2019 sentence is now being enforced is also no accident.

“A person who is subject to a sentence that has not been enforced constantly feels the heavy shadow of the sentence, knowing they must eventually return to prison,” Khandan told me via email. “This condition makes time feel particularly long and stifling.”

That this kind of abuse is directed at such honorable and decent people as Sotoudeh and Khandan makes the Iranian regime’s behavior all the more repugnant. I first met this family nearly a decade ago in their home in Tehran on the afternoon Sotoudeh was released from prison for the first time. Their children were still very small, and they have grown up to be no less committed to the cause of building a more decent Iran than their brave parents.

The harassment the couple has faced has ranged from extended stays in prison to more subtle tactics — the freezing of family bank accounts, interrogation of their then teenage daughter, and exit bans despite having preapproval for travel.

Sotoudeh told me she wants people to know that “neither the world nor Iran has been emptied of women and men who stand for their humanitarian beliefs and are willing to assume the danger to do so, even at the expense of their lives.”

For his part, Khandan is ultimately at peace, despite the horrors that might await him. “Farhad [Meysami] and I were sentenced to six years for producing pins that said ‘We are opposed to compulsory hijab,’” he said. “But now that I look back on the past, it’s heartwarming to know that our efforts, and that of others, regarding compulsory hijab have borne fruit so quickly and effectively through the ‘woman, life, freedom’ movement.”

Despite their brave and principled stance in support of basic rights, ultimately, Sotoudeh and Khandan are a middle-aged couple that deserve to live in peace.

“As Reza’s wife, I also wish to hold onto my last ray of hope that this sentence will not be carried out,” Sotoudeh told me. “What do such sentences achieve for the regime?”

Whether Khandan is ultimately forced to report to prison, as is being demanded, I have no doubt this couple will continue their noble resistance. None of the repressive measures, standard fare for the paranoid and petty Islamic republic, have deterred them for one very simple reason: They know they are right.

Opinion by Jason Rezaian

Jason Rezaian is a writer for Global Opinions. He served as The Post's correspondent in Tehran from 2012 to 2016. He spent 544 days unjustly imprisoned by Iranian authorities until his release in January 2016.

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