March 8. 2011: Focus on brave voices in Iran and Mexico

PEN Internationals’ Writers in Prison Committee
8 March 2011 International Womeen’s Day

Crackdown on Women’s Rights Activists in Iran and Mexico
On 8 March 2011, while the world celebrates International Women’s Day, human rights lawyer, journalist and activist Nasrin Soutadeh will have been in prison for six months, and faces another ten and a half years in jail. Her sentence is part of a systematic assault on human rights defenders and activists in Iran, many of whom are subject to arbitrary arrest, travel bans, closure of their organisations and harassment. PEN International is calling for Soutadeh’s release, and an end to arrests and persecution of all those who speak out on human rights abuses.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, aged 47 and a mother of two young children, was arrested on 4 September 2010 when she was summoned to the special court in Evin prison on charges of «propaganda against the state», “cooperating with the Association of Human Rights Defenders” and «conspiracy to disturb order». The arrest followed a raid on her home and office by security officers on 29 August 2010, who confiscated her files and documents. Her lawyer was not allowed to represent her in court or accompany her client during questioning. She was sentenced to eleven years in jail by Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court on 9 January 2010. The court also banned her from practicing law and from leaving the country for twenty years.

Soutadeh is believed to be charged for critical interviews she gave to overseas media following the disputed June 2009 presidential election, and for her membership of the Association of Human Rights Defenders (see below for more details). The sentence comprises one year’s imprisonment for «propaganda against the regime», and a total of ten years for the two charges of «acting against national security» and «violating the Islamic dress code (Hijab) in a filmed speech». She is appealing the sentence.

Soutadeh has spent much of her detention in solitary confinement at Tehran’s Evin Prison. She has staged three hunger strikes to protest her prison conditions and violations of due process, and her physical condition is said to have deteriorated alarmingly. Since her arrest Nasrin Soutadeh has been allowed very limited access to her family and lawyer, in violation of the Iranian Penal Code which guarantees the right to weekly visits and receive phone calls from relatives. Concerns for her welfare are acute.

Nasrin Sotoudeh is best known as a human rights lawyer and activist, but has also worked as a journalist for several reformist newspapers including Jame’e. Since qualifying as a lawyer in 2003, she has specialised in women’s and children’s rights, and has continued to write articles on these issues. Many of her articles have been rejected for publication, including a report written for a special issue of Daricheh on women’s rights for the occasion of 8 March (Women’s Day) last year. Following the launch of the One Million Signatures Campaign for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws in August 2006 by several leading women’s rights activists (, and the widespread growth of the women’s rights movement in Iran, she has represented many women’s rights activists including Parvin Ardalan, a well-known PEN case (see previous alerts). She is a close associate of exiled lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, and has represented many imprisoned Iranian opposition activists arrested in the unprecedented crackdown on dissent following the disputed presidential elections of 12 June 2009. Arrests are continuing, and many have been handed down lengthy sentences.

Click here to read some of Nasrin’s articles in English translation:
Hanging of Juveniles Under the Age of 18 in Iran
Execution of Minors and soghra’s file
In honour of Nasrin Sotoudeh


Send an appeal:

§         Condemning the harsh prison sentence handed down to writer, journalist and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh solely for the peaceful exercise of her right to free expression;

§         Calling for her immediate and unconditional release in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory;

§         Ensuring that she has full access to family visits and any necessary medical care whilst detained;

§         Seeking assurances of her well-being in detention.

Appeals to:

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Shoahada Street,
Islamic Republic of Iran.

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadeqh Larijani
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh (Office of the Head of the Judiciary)
Pasteur St.,
Vali Asr Ave., south of Serah-e Jomhouri
Tehran 1316814737
Islamic Republic of Iran.

His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The Presidency,
Palestine Avenue,
Azerbaijan Intersection,
Islamic Republic of Iran.

If possible please send a copy of your appeal to the diplomatic representative for Iran in your country.


Justice for Mexican poet and activist Susana Chávez
On the occasion of Women’s Day 2011, the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC) commemorates the poet and women’s rights activist Susana Chávez Castillo, who was murdered in the border town of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua state, on 6 January 2011. Chávez was active in protests and social groups calling for justice for the hundreds of women killed in the Juárez area since the early 1990s. The authorities have denied that her murder was related in any way to her activism and poetry or to organised crime, despite the recent murder and harassment of numerous other local rights defenders and the area’s long record of extreme violence against women. Two months on, Chávez’ murder remains unsolved. The WiPC calls on the Mexican authorities to conduct a full and impartial investigation into her death, including due consideration of any possible links to her activism and poetry.

Susana Chávez Castillo (born 5 November 1974) was a prominent poet who led protests against the unsolved killings of women raped and killed in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua state, on the border with the United States, since the 1990s. She was also active in organisations supporting the families and friends of the deceased women, including the group Return Our Daughters (Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa). Chávez coined and popularised the slogan “Not one more death” (‘Ni una muerte más’) which was used at the protests, and took part in poetry readings that she dedicated to murdered women. Her poem Sangre Nuestra (Our Blood) (see below) is written from the perspective of a victim.

Chávez was herself murdered and mutilated in Ciudad Juárez in early January 2011. Her body was found strangled with a bag over her head and her left hand cut off in the city centre on 6 January but was only identified five days later.

The authorities were quick to deny that Chávez’ murder was related to her activism and poetry highlighting the ‘femicides’ or to organised crime. The Chihuahua state attorney general’s office said that Chávez was killed by three teenage boys she had met while out drinking. The teenagers allegedly invited her to a house belonging to one of them and murdered her while they were drunk and high on drugs, cutting off her hand to try to make the murder look as if it was connected to organised crime. All three suspects were arrested and have been charged with her murder. The Mexican National Commission of Human Right is following the case.

Chávez’ death took place three weeks after the murder of human rights defender Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, a mother who fought tirelessly for justice for her daughter, Rubí Marisol, who was killed in Ciudad Juárez in 2008. Escobedo was shot dead while picketing outside the governor’s palace in the state capital Chihuahua city on 16 December 2010. At least five other rights activists have reportedly been killed in Chihuahua in the last two years while others have been threatened and attacked.

Amnesty International stated that Chávez was apparently a victim of the violence against women she campaigned against, and that her murder is a further indication that such violence is again on the rise in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua.

Some 1,000 mainly poor women have been murdered in the Juárez area since 1993, 300 of them in 2010 alone. Most of the murders remain unsolved and have been variously attributed to serial killers, drug cartels, domestic or sexual violence. As drug cartels continue to fight each other and the military for access to the US market, Ciudad Juárez is now the most violent city in Mexico, with over 3,000 people murdered in 2010 out of a population of just over a million.

Mexico is also one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work as a journalist. Since January 2004, 36 writers – 35 print journalists and one author – have been murdered, while nine other print journalists have disappeared. Few if any of these crimes have been properly investigated or punished.

Useful links:
Reports on Chávez’ death by the BBC on 12 January 2011 (English) and 13 January (Spanish), and by the Los Angeles Times (14 January) (English only)
Report on recent attacks on human rights defenders in Chihuahua state by Human Rights Watch (23 February 2011): English and Spanish
Chávez’ poetry blog Primera Tormenta (First Storm) (Spanish only); the bio from her blog and her poem Sangre (Blood) are translated into English on this blog


Please send appeals:
Protesting the murder and mutilation of the poet and women’s right activist Susana Chávez Castillo on 6 January 2011;
Calling for a full and impartial investigation into her murder, including due consideration of any possible links with her activism and poetry, with the involvement of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists and Freedom of Expression;
Calling too for effective investigations into all other unsolved killings and disappearances of writers, journalists and human rights activists in Mexico.

Send appeals to:

Lic. Felipe De Jesús Calderón Hinojosa
Presidente de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos
Residencia Oficial de los Pinos Casa Miguel Alemán
Col. San Miguel Chapultepec, C.P. 11850, DISTRITO FEDERAL, México

Salutation: Señor Presidente/ Dear Mr President

Attorney General
Lic. Arturo Chávez Chávez
Procurador General de la República
Av. Paseo de Reforma No. 211-213, Piso 16
Col. Cuauhtémoc, Defegacion Cuauhtémoc
México D.F. C.P. 06500

Salutation: Señor Procurador General/Dear Attorney General


Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists and Freedom of Expression
Dr Gustavo Salas Chávez
Fiscal Especial para la Atención de Delitos Cometidos contra Periodistas (FEADP)

Please also send copies of your appeals to the Mexican Embassy in your country.

Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)