TEHRAN -- A sentence of lashes and decades in prison handed down to a prominent human rights lawyer is the latest example of Iran's expanding crackdown on such attorneys in an effort to silence dissent.
Nasrin Sotoudeh, who defended women protesting the nation's mandatory headscarf law, was sentenced to a total of 38 years and 148 lashes, her husband said this week, clarifying that she would probably spend 12 to 17 years in prison based on penal code guidelines.
Sotoudeh, 55, who has won international human rights prizes, has been imprisoned since being taken from her home in June and is already serving a five-year sentence.
Sotoudeh was sentenced to an additional 33 years after being convicted of several more national security crimes this month, her husband, Reza Khandan, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times this week after a phone conversation with his wife. He said the Islamic penalty code stipulates that out of several verdicts, the longest one will be applied.
Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, said lashing is an unusual sentence for someone charged in a security case. He said it showed Iran is escalating its crackdown on human rights defenders.
"Sotoudeh is asking for rule of law. It shows how much (authorities) are afraid of her," Ghaemi said in an interview.
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Experts say that political activists, dissidents and opposition figures are no longer the only ones being targeted. Now, in an attempt to regain control in the aftermath of widespread civil unrest, Iran's security forces and judiciary are eyeing those who defend dissidents.
"Iran's security forces are really scared," said Barbara Slavin, director of the Atlantic Council's Future of Iran Initiative.
"They are determined to terrify their own population and tell them they are going to maintain control."
More than 40 lawyers who defend political activists have been arrested in the decade following Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election.