Abdolfattah Soltani

The European Union has condemned the “harsh verdict given by an Iranian court” to human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani and called on the Islamic Republic to release him immediately.

The French News Agency reports that Catherine Ashton, the EU’s head of foreign policy, issued a statement on March 13 saying: “The 18-year prison sentence and the 20-year ban from practising law imposed by the court constitute another unacceptable attack against the legal profession in Iran.”

Soltani was charged with “propaganda against the regime, founding the Human Rights Defenders Centre, assembly and collusion against the regime” and “collecting pelf” by receiving the Nuremberg Human Rights Award.

Soltani was arrested last September and is currently in Evin Prison. He was arrested previously in June of 2009 and released after two months and a large bail payment.

The 58-year-old lawyer was accused of espionage six years ago but was acquitted in the appellate court.

Members of the Human Rights Defenders Centre, an NGO providing legal support in various human rights cases, have been the target of repeated government persecution, especially in the past two years.