Calling All Muslims

Christy Walsh is scathing of the imprisonment and torture of an Iranian lawyer by religious authorities in the country. 

On 11 March 2019, human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 33 years in prison and 148 lashes. The severity of the sentence is beyond over the top it amounts to torture – cruel and inhumane torture, pure and simple, because periodically during her unjust imprisonment she will be subjected to 148 lashes by instalments. She is currently in Evin Prison, which has a reputation for dishing out extreme punishments of its own, in addition to any punishment passed down by the courts.

Some of her clients’ that need her the most are young adults (still in their teens) waiting to be executed for an offence they allegedly committed when they were children. Or women for having done something to invoke the wrath of Islam… how easy is that to do!! It is an eggshell religion with a rigidly dogmatic core on a hair-trigger.

Ms Sotoudeh was denied any formal written judgment or record of what charges she has been convicted of. But she managed to make her own record of her charges and the sentences. According to her notes, the 33 year sentence and lashes are an accumulation of 7 criminal charges with Revolutionary Court in Tehran invoking the most severe penalty for each charge. I will set them out and what is immediately evident is the direct relationship they have to the type’s of client’s she represented and the charges against them, as follows:

  • 12 years in prison for “encouraging corruption and prostitution” her opposition to compulsory wearing of a head veil or other oppressive Islamic rules against women.
  • 7.5 years in prison for opposing capital punishment –she represents those facing execution. 
  • 7.5 years in prison for “assembly and collusion with intention to commit a crime against national security” -meeting family, friends or supporters of her clients.
  • 3 years in prison and 74 lashes for “publishing falsehoods with the intention to disturb public opinion” –she makes Islam look bad. 
  • 2 years in prison for the “disturbing public order 
  • 1.5 years in prison for “propaganda against the state” –she talks to the wrong people.
  • 74 lashes for “openly committing a sinful act by... appearing in public without a hijab”
  • The judge passed the most severe sentence possible on each charge if a defendant is found guilty of more than three offences.

Ms Sotoudeh has expressed concern for any lawyer who might represent her because they may suffer similar fate in retaliation for defending her. She has a point. But that is not the only consideration. Representation for a vast body of defendants based on the nature of the charges against them could leave them without legal representation if the lawyer can be imprisoned for making too persuasive a case on their behalf. It is easy to see how any reasonable lawyer might be inhibited by fear from wanting to do so.

In addition, Ms Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khanden, is also at risk of arrest for supporting his wife or her work. In condemning her imprisonment, Irish based NGO, Front Line Defenders have also suggested this:
the lengthy sentence against human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and the judicial harassment of her husband, Reza Khanden, which it believes is motivated by their legitimate and peaceful defence of human rights in Iran.
Although extreme, Ms Sotoudeh’s case is not inconsistent with other excessively harsh judgments to come from an Islamic Court. At some point ordinary Muslims have got to take responsibility for the crimes and abuses committed in the name of Islam. The Irish carry their own shame for failing to take on the abuse of power and authority they allowed the Catholic Church to wield over them for too long. The availability of documentary evidence of the extremes and abuses of Islam are undeniable – Muslims and non-Muslims alike are confronted with them every day. At what point does a Muslim’s own conscience tell them that things are wrong in Islam? An appropriate adage might be of any religion: the more passively submissive its followers the more abusive the religion.

We cannot randomly blame Muslim’s for Islamic abuses but we cant help but wonder either, how much do they chose to accept abuses and injustices as representative of Islam? Given our own passive submission to the abuses of the Catholic Church we ought to extend our solidarity to Muslims who want better for themselves and mankind.

Nasrin Sotoudeh has done what many Irish people failed to do right up into the 19980’s or more recent times, and that is to stand up to the human rights abuses of the men of religion. A Sharia judge should yield no more power over anyone’s life than the average citizen. To have the power to inflict torture and prolonged imprisonment for offending Islam or Iran ought to be vehemently opposed from everyone, not least Muslims.

There are no mosques full of worshipers chanting for her liberty or discussing what a courageous woman Ms Sotoudeh is? The world has come to know that when Muslims begin to chant in mosques it is almost always to condemn or pass critical judgment on non-Muslims. Islam has been in crisis and has been holding the world to ransom. Whereas, Nasrin Sotoudeh represents the sort of Islam that all Muslims ought to aspire to. Sadly, how many Muslims in Ireland are crying out for Ms Sotoudeh’s release?

Where is the Muslim sisterhood? Where are Ibrahim Halawa’s sisters now? Many of us were conflicted in our support for a radical Islamic family living in Dublin whose son was in need of our support to get him back to Ireland. We heard this family dilute their extremist views because the plight of their son/brother required it if they wanted our support.

It is possible Ibrahim Halawa’s sisters might support Ms Sotoudeh but now that their brother has been released they are back under Islam’s rigid control, it was relaxed because their father would not have made as good of a spokesman on his son’s behalf. Many Muslims coming to the west claim to have escaped brutal Islamic regimes, the unfortunate thing for their wives and daughters is that the same regimes often still exist in the family home. Ms Sotoudeh should inspire them because, in the west, no Muslim woman will suffer the same fate as that of Ms Sotoudeh. For that reason they ought to do what they can to put pressure on the Iranian Regime to release Ms Sotoudeh –the call for her freedom will be a lot stronger and persuasive coming from Muslims than it will from non-Muslims.

For Ms Sotoudeh’s sake, Muslims should stop their one-way leeching of the advances in human rights westerners have won and start pulling their weight by speaking up for those who need it.

Christy Walsh was stitched up by the British Ministry of Defence and spent many years in prison as a result.


  1. Persuasive arguments Christy. Luckily made from Ireland so no knock at the door from the UK police just asking for a chat about your views.

  2. Christy

    Your excellent article plus yesterday's announcement that the Sultan of Brunei intends to introduce Sharia law including stoning for gay people undelines why I am reluctant to use the word "Islamophobia" to describe anti-Muslim bigotry and prejudice. I have no problems with immigration from Muslim majority countries and amn all for accommodationg the right of Muslims to practive their religion and to express peacefully their cultural identity but accomodation of Muslims should never come at the expense of the rights of secular, LTGB, women and ex-Muslims. Abd if that means overriding the opposition of conservative Muslimn parents to LTGB education in primary schools bring it on.

  3. Christy Walsh says

    Thanks Daithi & Barry. Barry... the possibility for countless people to suddenly, in the last 20 years or so, to develop an irrational fear of Islam is not as likely as more and more people are less tolerant of the abuses of Islam, for example, it would not be irrational to fear retribution from Islam in Iran for minor infractions or simply offending its religious leaders.

  4. Good piece Christy - theocrats should be challenged at every opportunity

  5. Exactly the Christy, the automatic dismissal critics of Islam as ignorant of Islam, and in need of more exposure to it to truly appreciate its beauty was sent up by Pat Condell. He compared the situation to the application of leeches in old folk healing rituals. When the first application didn’t cure the ailment , the answer was to apply more leeches. Whether it’s Iran or Brunei , systems rooted in Islam do not offer impartial, universal justice. You yourself know from brutal firsthand experience that injustice is not exclusive to these traditions, but the worst places for women/gays/ other minorities are such regimes.