TEHRAN: Jailed human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been granted temporary release, the Iranian judiciary’s Mizan Online news website reported on Saturday.
“Sotoudeh ... has been released temporarily with the consent of the prosecutor in charge of women’s prisons,” the website said.
The UN had called on Iran to free Sotoudeh, a winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize, as well as other political prisoners excluded from a push to empty jails amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawyer was moved in late October from Tehran’s Evin Prison to a women’s detention center outside the capital, while her family insisted she needed hospital treatment.
In August she announced she was going on hunger strike to demand the release of political prisoners and focus attention on their plight due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But health issues prompted the 57-year-old Sotoudeh to stop the hunger strike more than 45 days after she started it, her husband Reza Khandan said in September.
Sotoudeh was sentenced in 2019 to serve 12 years in jail for defending women arrested for protesting compulsory headscarf laws in the Islamic republic.
Her furlough comes almost a month after French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, detained in Iran since June 2019, was temporarily released from prison with an electronic bracelet, her lawyer Saeed Dehghan had said on Oct. 3.
Adelkhah was sentenced on May 16 to five years in prison for “gathering and conspiring against national security.”
She was severely weakened by her 49-day hunger strike carried out to protest against her condition in prison and had developed a “kidney disease,” according to Dehghan.
Iran has been struggling to contain what is the Middle East’s worst outbreaks of Covid-19 since reporting its first cases in February.
The pandemic has so far killed more than 37,800 and infected over 673,000 in the Islamic republic.
In October, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet expressed deep concern over the deteriorating situation of rights activists, lawyers and political prisoners held in Iran as a result of the pandemic.
“People detained solely for their political views or other forms of activism in support of human rights should not be imprisoned at all, and such prisoners, should certainly not be treated more harshly or placed at greater risk,” she said.
“I am very concerned that Nasrin Sotoudeh’s life is at risk,” Bachelet had added.
A system of temporary releases to reduce the populations in severely overcrowded prisons, introduced by Iran in February to rein in transmission of Covid-19, has benefited some 120,000 inmates, although a number have since been required to return, according to Bachelet’s office.
But it said that prisoners sentenced to more than five years for “national security” offenses were excluded.