Lawyer on hunger strike in Iran jail refuses treatment during coronavirus protest

Nasrin Sotoudeh entered her fourth week of protest demanding release of inmates

Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and her husband Reza Khandan. Amnesty International
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A human rights lawyer has entered the fourth week of a hunger strike at Iran’s Evin jail as she demands the release of inmates threatened by the spread of Covid-19.

Supporters of Nasrin Sotoudeh said the Iranian regime would have “blood on their hands” if it failed to heed the concerns of inmates in the country’s overcrowded jails.

Her family said that Ms Sotoudeh was now “extremely weak” and had been transferred to Evin’s clinic, where she continues to refuse treatment.

It's not Ms Sotoudeh's first hunger strike in the jail; in 2012, while serving a previous sentence for spreading propaganda, she refused food for 49 days over Tehran's refusal to let her young daughter travel abroad.

The lawyer started her latest protest on August 11 to call for the release of political prisoners endangered by the spread of Covid-19.

Ms Sotoudeh was sentenced in 2019 to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for colluding against the system and insulting Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The United Nations, United States and European Union have condemned the punishment.

She was detained after representing women arrested on charges of appearing in public without headscarves in protest against Iran’s mandatory dress code.

The National reported in July how her bank account had been blocked during what her family said was an ongoing campaign of harassment designed to make an example of the prominent lawyer to tame other activists.

Her husband, Reza Khandan, told a US rights group that his wife had been told by prison staff that she needed an injection but she was refusing it. She had refused the requests of friends and activists to end her protest.

Mr Khandan wrote on Facebook last month that his wife had lost more than one tenth of her body weight, her blood pressure was erratic and she was vomiting.

The US-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran said she went on hunger strike after letters to authorities went unanswered.

“In addition to the deep injustice of political imprisonment, the judiciary will have blood on its hands if Nasrin Sotoudeh and other political prisoners fall victim to the authorities’ total disregard for their health and well-being,” Hadi Ghaemi, the centre’s executive director, said.

The group wants Tehran to release all political prisoners for medical care and testing. It reported last month that 12 inmates had tested positive for Covid-19 in a single section of the jail with many more showing symptoms.

It said that a fraction of those displaying symptoms had tested positive. Political prisoners were largely left out of the country’s mass release of prisoners in March, which was aimed at reducing deaths from coronavirus.