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Iran's leading human rights advocate is in jail and in danger. Nasrin Sotoudeh ended a 46-day hunger strike, and her health is now very fragile. The family of the 57-year-old lawyer is trying to bring attention to her case through a new documentary. NPR's Deborah Amos has the story.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: By the time Nasrin Sotoudeh ended a hunger strike in September, her protest reached an international audience that called for her release. As COVID cases spiked in Iran, her demand - furlough vulnerable prisoners. Iran did grant temporary release to tens of thousands, but it didn't include prominent political prisoners. Weakened by a diet of salt water and tea, she was transferred to a hospital where tests showed heart damage, but she didn't get needed care, says her husband, Reza Khandan. He spoke to NPR from Tehran.
How is Nasrin's health? Are you worried about her?
REZA KHANDAN: (Through interpreter) The main thing that worries me is that what if all these things are doing to her is going to cause her to have a heart attack?
AMOS: Sotoudeh is a defiant lawyer in a country where defiance can be costly. That's the story a new documentary tells called "Nasrin."
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "NASRIN")
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: She is one of the bravest voices in Iran.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: She took on cases that other lawyers were too afraid to take on.
BARACK OBAMA: We've seen Nasrin Sotoudeh jailed for defending human rights.
AMOS: Filmmakers Jeff Kaufman and Marcia Ross interviewed her for four years from afar, the on-the-ground camera work done by Iranians who risked arrest and can't be named for security reasons. The result - an intimate portrait of a woman called the Nelson Mandela of Iran, says Kaufman.
JEFF KAUFMAN: Nasrin always knew that the best way to have strength and power and change is to have a loud, clear voice. She says in the film at one point, we must not let our children inherit silence.
AMOS: Sotoudeh has fought for some of Iran's most sensitive causes, saving juveniles on death row, winning limited justice for threatened minorities. She was jailed in 2018 simply for defending women who protested Iran's compulsory head covering law by removing their scarves in public. She was sentenced to decades in prison.
KAUFMAN: Her arrest was traumatic and horrible for her and her family. It changed the dynamic not just for the film but really for our lives.
AMOS: The filmmakers are raising the alarm about her health, even as the documentary opened to American audiences, says Ross.
MARCIA ROSS: There's a tremendous amount of concern about Nasrin's health. She's extremely fragile physically.
AMOS: Now, it's husband Reza Khandan speaking out from Tehran.
KHANDAN: (Non-English language spoken).
AMOS: "I'm not a fighter or a revolutionary," he tells me. "I am a seeker of justice for Nasrin," he explains. He's also threatened with arrest despite his role as a single parent for the couple's two children. But he says now I have to raise my voice.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "NASRIN")
NASRIN SOTOUDEH: (Non-English language spoken).
AMOS: Nasrin Sotoudeh's voice, her lifetime of speaking out against injustice, is introduced to a wider audience in a documentary called "Nasrin." Deborah Amos, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUSTAVO SANTAOLALLA'S "THE LAST OF US")
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