Iranian political prisoner suggested for honorary degree

Hundreds of students, faculty urge Woolf to consider Sotoudeh for award

Nasrin Sotoudeh.
Image supplied by: Wikipedia Commons
Nasrin Sotoudeh.

As Nasrin Sotoudeh sits in prison and endures a hunger strike in Iran, hundreds of students and faculty are calling for recognition. 

Over 500 students and faculty members have signed an open letter urging Principal Daniel Woolf and Senate to award Sotoudeh an honorary degree for exemplifying an “unyielding spirit” in her advocacy for vulnerable groups like women and children.

Three past recipients have also signed the letter, including Margaret Atwood, former Premier of Ontario Bob Rae, and former Chief of Justice Beverley McLachlin. 

Sotoudeh, an Iranian human rights lawyer and political prisoner in the Evin Prison in Iran, began her activism in 1991 as one of Iran’s few female writers, working as a journalist until 2003 when she became a human rights lawyer. 

Sotoudeh was imprisoned for the first time in 2010 for defending journalists and activists, which the Iranian government deemed a threat to national security and anti-government propaganda. She went on a hunger strike before being released in September of 2013. 

She was arrested on June 13 for her defence of the Girls of Revolution Street, who were arrested for publicly removing their headscarves in protest to the hijab dress-code in Iran.

Sotoudeh began another hunger strike in August following the Iranian security raid of her family home, her sister-in-law’s home, and the home of civil rights activist Mohammad Reza Farhadpour in July.

Sotoudeh’s husband was also placed in the Evin prison in September following his protests of her arrest.

Meanwhile, at Queen’s, the petition’s open letter cites a message Sotoudeh wrote from her cell about her imprisonment. 

“I realize they had arrested me for my work on human rights, the defense of women’s rights activists, and the fight against the death penalty,” she wrote. “Still, I will not be silenced.”

This past October, Daniel Hornstein, Daniel Power and Jeremy Wiener, both ArtsSci ’19, co-founded Students for Political Prisoners to engage student voices.

The group aims to stand in solidarity with unjustly imprisoned individuals around the world and demand their release.

Along with groups like SeQular and Gender Studies DSC, Students for Political Prisoners formed the Queen’s Advocacy Coalition to amplify student voices and instigate the open letter, according to Wiener.

“It’s important for Queen’s University to take stands on international human rights issues, look outwards and not only inwards,” Wiener said in an interview with The Journal.

Wiener added it’s important to fight for Sotoudeh because of her work in promoting equality.

“She fights for women’s rights, [representing] a group of the Iranian society that’s oppressed and repressed, persecuted and prosecuted, simply for being women and standing up for their rights,” Wiener said.

Power also said the petition was important to challenge a stereotype that young adults can be “apathetic.” 

“We really wanted to shatter that stereotype and demonstrate that, with collective action, we can actually make a difference,” Power said. 

The University is aware of the Queen’s Advocacy Coalition’s efforts and are encouraging them to continue, according to Wiener and Power.

The Coalition will present Woolf and Senate with the petition in February.


The original version of this article failed to include Daniel Hornstein in its list of co-founders. It has been edited to credit his involvement.

The Journal regrets the error

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