Imprisoned Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh has won the 2011 American PEN Award.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that the prize will be awarded at PEN’s Annual Gala on April 26, 2011, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Reports say that Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace laureate, will receive the prize on Sotoudeh’s behalf.
The president of PEN American Center Kwame Anthony Appiah said: “Nasrin Sotoudeh not only embodies the spirit of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, but also the spirit of this remarkable year.”
He added: “As a writer, as an activist, and as a lawyer, she has dedicated herself to a simple and powerful idea: the principle that the rights guaranteed by law are absolute and shared equally by all.”
Appiah continued: “At a time when women and men around the world are standing together peacefully to reclaim this most basic truth, she is in one of the world’s most infamous prisons, to the great shame of the Iranian government. In honoring her with this award, we stand with the millions of Iranians she has stood up for and inspired, and we urge individuals and governments around the world to join us in pressing for her immediate release.”
The American PEN Award is given every year to an international figure who has been persecuted for exercising or defending the freedom of speech.
The U.S. PEN Association is the world’s oldest human rights and international literary organization and the largest of 145 international PEN branches. Larry Siems, head of Freedom to Write, praised Sotoudeh’s “unyielding spirit in her fight for justice, equality, and the rule of law in Iran.”
He went on to urge the U.S. President Obama’s administration to press Iranian authorities to align their country with the human rights revolution that has overtaken Middle East and release Sotoudeh which he described as "one of the most visible symbols of these universal values in Iran."
Sotoudeh was arrested last September, charged with “assembly and collusion to disrupt national security and propaganda against the regime.” She was sentenced to 11 years in prison and banned from practicing law and travelling abroad for 20 years.
Sotoudeh’s law practice focused on human rights cases and preventing the execution of juvenile offenders. She defended numerous opposition detainees in the protests that coalesced around allegations of fraud in Iran`s 2009 presidential elections.