Jailed lawyer ends hunger strike in Iran over health fears

Nasrin Sotoudeh has been calling for the release of political prisoners because of the Covid-19 emergency in the country’s jails

The jailed human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has ended her 45-day hunger strike because of health concerns.

Ms Sotoudeh was returned to Evin prison in Tehran this week after a brief stay in hospital because of heart problems.

The lawyer and campaigner had been on hunger strike since August 11 to demand the release of political prisoners during the Covid-19 crisis in Iran.

“She decided to end the hunger strike in order not to worsen her heart problems," her husband Reza Khandan told the French news agency AFP.

Political prisoners were largely left out of a mass prisoner release programme in March, which was intended to limit the spread of the disease in Iran’s overcrowded and unhygienic penal system.

Among the few who were released was Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Iranian-British aid worker, who remains at her parents’ home in Iran but this month faced the threat of a new trial that could extend her five-year sentence which is due to end in April next year.

Ms Sotoudeh, 57, best-known for defending rights activists, women who remove the headscarf and opposition leaders, was arrested in 2018 and is serving a 38-year term on charges of collusion and propaganda against the regime.

Her plight has drawn global support with the UN, legal organisations and rights groups calling for her release. She will not be eligible for release until she has served 12 years.

“Nasrin Sotoudeh should not have to risk her life in order to call attention to the authorities’ unlawful and cruel disregard for the lives of political prisoners,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the US-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran.

Covid-19 has so far killed more than 25,000 people in Iran and infected more than 440,000, according to official figures.