It is easy to forget sometimes that we are immensely privileged to live in a society where we can take justice and freedom – of action and speech – for granted. No society is perfect, of course, and nor is any system of law or government, but on the whole, living in Australia, or the UK, or the US, or most of what we describe as the Western world – we can feel pretty secure that we will be treated fairly most of the time by our law-makers and law-enforcers. As the story of Nasrin Sotoudeh reminded us last year, however, this is not the case everywhere.
Ms Sotoudeh was imprisoned in 2011 in Iran after receiving a sentence of six years for spreading propaganda and “damaging national security”. A human rights lawyer by profession, she had defended political dissidents, and had come to feel the full power of the regime turned against her as a result. In prison, she was subjected to long periods of time in solitary confinement, and was refused visits from her family and her own lawyer. She was not allowed to attend her father’s funeral. Her family suffered too, and it was when the authorities banned her daughter from leaving Iran that in October of 2012 she began a hunger strike that was to bring her perilously close to death.
Our world is more connected now than ever it has been in the past, and with worldwide attention focused on Nasrin Sotoudeh’s case – led, as is often the case, by the admirably persistent Amnesty International – the authorities in Iran eventually lifted the restrictions on her family which had caused her to take such drastic action, and she gave up her protest. Her hunger strike highlighted to the rest of the world the lengths to which repressive regimes will go in order to restrict freedom of speech, but it has also shown that such regimes will listen when we all pay attention.
Sometimes it takes a brave person to stand up for what is right, and Nasrin Sotoudeh is deserving of our admiration. She was finally freed on 19 September 2013, and we must should not forget her – she has more work to do. She falls into my definition of an inspirational woman; I hope she falls into yours too.