We often think of documentary movies as dry and uninspiring. Well, the documentary Nasrin, we’ll change that opinion quickly. The movie is about the extraordinary Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer in Iran, a country known far and wide for its refusal to recognize the concept of human rights – especially when it comes to the rights of women.
For a woman to even attempt to stand up in court in defiance of the authorities in Iran, let alone defend men and women detained as political prisoners or who have run afoul of the archaic and draconian morality laws of the country, is astounding. The fact that Nasrin has been doing it on a regular basis since she began her law career, and even imprisoned, continues to fight for the rights of herself and her fellow inmates, makes her a hero on the level of Nelson Mandela.
So why isn’t her image plastered all over our newspapers? Why isn’t her wrongful imprisonment – she was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes, yes, to be whipped 148 times, for promoting the rights of women – headline news all over the world? Maybe because if the West criticizes Iran about its treatment of political prisoners it will have to do the same to Saudi Arabia – who we back with military aid to attack Iran and destroy Yemen?
Or maybe, as this wonderful documentary points out, the whole mess in Iran is the fault of the US and the United Kingdom in the first place. For it was those two countries who orchestrated a coup in the 1950s that overthrew a democratically elected government and installed the dictatorial Shah of Iran. All because the Iranians had the nerve to want to control their own oil fields and not let the West take all the profits.
It was the Shah’s policies of torture and repression that led to the revolution that saw the rise of the current regime in Iran leading to the repression of millions of people. This is the backdrop against which the story of Nasrin is played out.
It’s almost impossible for us to understand the fear people must live with under this regime and the bravery it takes for a person to stand up against the repression. But Nasrin Sotoudeh did this on a daily basis without even seeming to think about it. She just saw something that needed to be done and did it.
She tried to save children who were being abused by their fathers – women can’t divorce or obtain legal custody of their children in Iran – and fought for fair trials for political prisoners. Naturally this insistence that everybody be treated equally brought her into conflict with the authorities and she was first imprisoned in 2008.
That time she was released when the so-called reformer Hassan Rouhain, who only rules under the sufferance of the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, as Iran is a theocracy, was elected president. However, as the country adheres to a barbaric interpretation of Islam and is actually ruled by the religious leaders who enforce those laws, the chances of change without a drastic restructuring of society is slight.
Much like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, Nasrin and her allies are up against a seemingly monolithic foe who will stop at nothing to hold onto their power. Yet, as this film shows that never stopped her fighting.
In the period leading up to her most recent arrest the film shows she had begun defending the brave young women who would remove their hijabs in public. In Iran women are forbidden to appear in public with their heads uncovered. So when these young women would remove their headscarves, and film themselves doing it to broadcast on the Internet, it was deemed a serious offence against the state.
Is it any wonder the regime arrested the woman lawyer who was trying to defend them? What’s amazing is how long they let her continue her work.
All this information is gradually revealed and discussed in this wonderful documentary. While the story it tells is astounding, what’s even more incredible the fact it was even told. For any of the footage actually shot in Iran was done so illegally and the people who shot it, whether on their phone or with other cameras, have to remain anonymous for their protection.
While this is a very difficult movie to watch everyone should watch it. As long as Nasrin Sotoudeh and the other people of Iran aren’t free – none of us are free. Nasrin is a heartbreaking and powerful movie detailing one woman’s courageous fight for freedom – watch it if you dare.
Nasrin is now available to be viewed on demand through all the usual streaming services in Canada and North America and a full list can be viewed at the film’s website.