Jailed Iranian lawyer, Abdolfattah Soltani, wins 2012 IBA Human Rights Award


Imprisoned Iranian lawyer and human rights defender Abdolfattah Soltani is the winner of the 2012 International Bar AssociationHuman Rights Award. The announcement was made at the International Bar Association (IBA) Annual Conference in Dublin, Ireland, where Mr Soltani’s daughter, Maede Soltani, and fellow Iranian lawyer, Mahnaz Parakand, accepted the Award on his behalf.

A co-founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC) with Nobel Peace Prize winner Ms Shirin Ebadi, Mr Soltani has been conferred with the title for his outstanding contribution as a legal practitioner to human rights. He has worked courageously and determinedly throughout his career to provide pro bono legal counsel to those in need and, as a result of his human rights defence work, has endured persistent persecution from the Iranian government and has been imprisoned on several occasions.

Mr Soltani is currently in the notorious Evin Prison in Iran serving a 13-year sentence that stems from a number of charges including co-founding the DHRC, spreading anti-government propaganda and endangering national security. The imprisonment began on 4 March 2012.  

Fellow Iranian lawyer, Mahnaz Parakand, delivered Mr Soltani’s acceptance speech in which he thanked the IBA for the Award, and all those gathered, in particularly ‘all the free and independent lawyers’. He told ‘Colleagues’ that Iran has ‘a collection of bad laws; but I must say that the fundamental demand and wish of many civil and political activists in Iran, is the correct implementation of even these bad laws! But the ugly truth is that the political establishment in Iran, in many cases by using a few non-independent judges has turned the whole judicial system into a tool for implementing their own wishes. They are using these courts as a heavy hammer to suppress the legitimate and legal demand of the population.’ He added, ‘Defending the rights of the accused for conscientious lawyers is extremely difficult, sometimes futile and frustrating.’ Mr Soltani’s speech concluded on an optimistic note, ‘I hope that access to a just judicial process and civil rights, a guarantor of the establishment and expansion of democracy, will advance day by day.’

From left Maede Soltani; interpreter Reza Mirfattahi; and Mahnaz Parakand

Mr Soltani’s daughter, Maede Soltani, also addressed the IBA audience. During her acceptance speech, she said that the Iranian establishment had attempted to depict her father as a person unfit ‘to join the board of the Iranian Bar Council’, and that there had been a variety of accusations against him, threats, and arrests all designed to make him feel intimidated. She added that her mother was also imprisoned and that during the six-day long solitary confinement, ‘my mother was pressured to confess lies against my father.’ This happened in 2009 when Mrs Soltani collected, on her husband’s behalf, an award from the city of Nuremberg in recognition of his continuous activities in the field of civil rights. Mr Soltani had been prevented from leaving Iran and collecting the Award in person. Shortly afterwards he was imprisoned and his sentence extended because he accepted the City of Nuremberg Award.

Maede Soltani addressing the IBA Rule of Law Symposium audience

Maede Soltani expressed grave concern about her father’s well-being, saying, ‘during my father’s arrest, interrogators of the Intelligence Ministry and other security agencies put him in solitary confinement for six months in the infamous section 209 of Evin Prison. Under psychological torture, they demanded that my father confess lies against the “Defenders of Human Rights Centre” and Mrs Ebadi.’ She added, ‘Prison life itself brings with it illness and my father, in addition to his previous health conditions, has to endure more illnesses arising from malnutrition and the appalling prison conditions. Up to now, he has not been provided with any medical care.’

Akira Kawamura, IBA President said, ‘Mr Soltani reminds us all that for many lawyers across the world, performing their professional and legitimate duties is both challenging and dangerous. As 5,000 lawyers gather in Dublin to celebrate the achievements and progression of the legal profession, we recognise and thank Mr Soltani for his noble and courageous work.’


Among Mr Soltani’s high profile cases are:

  • Nasrin Soutoudeh, a journalist and human rights lawyer;
  • Akbar Ghanji a human rights activist, who exposed the involvement of several government officials in the murder of intellectuals and journalists in the 1990s; and
  • Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian journalist arrested for taking photographs in front of Evin prison in July 2003. Ms Kazemi died in the same prison several days later.


Mr Soltani has also defended teachers, protesters, other fellow human rights lawyers, political activists, students, and several Baha’I (Iranian minority group) leaders. In many instances other lawyers refused to take on these cases because of the risks involved.

The IBA Human Rights Award, sponsored by LexisNexis, recognises personal endeavour in the field of law which makes an outstanding contribution to the promotion, protection and advancement of human rights and the rule of law. The 2012 Award was presented on Friday 5 October during the IBA’s Rule of Law Symposium held at the conclusion of the week-long IBA Annual Conference at the Conference Centre Dublin, in Ireland.

Nigel Roberts, Senior Director, Global Associations, LexisNexis said,  ‘LexisNexis is proud to support this award and applauds the work of the IBA Human Rights Institute to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law. We congratulate Mr Abdolfattah Soltani, a most worthy honoree of the 2012 IBA Human Rights Award.’

To read Abdolfattah Soltani’s acceptance speech as delivered by Mahnaz Parakand click here.



To read Maede Soltani’s speech in full click here.




Editor’s notes

Previous winners of the International Bar Association Human Rights Award:

2011 Ivan Velasquez Gomez, Colombia. Presented with the award for his tireless and courageous work on parliamentary transparency and fighting organised crime in Colombia.

2010 Clive Stafford Smith, United Kingdom. Presented with the award for his commitment to bringing legal rights to the most vulnerable and to those who cannot afford representation. In addition, for his work defending individuals on death row, ensuring due process and justice for those wrongly convicted.

2008 Femi Falana, Nigeria. Presented with the award as recognition of his commitment to the legal profession and the promotion of human rights, and the significant impact in increasing access to justice and ending the culture of impunity in the West Africa region.

2006 Maria Inés Miranda Navarro, Spain.Presented with the Award for her dedication in promoting and protecting human rights in the disputed territories of Western Sahara.

2004 George Bizos, South Africa. Presented with the Award for his outstanding contribution to human rights law in South Africa. Nelson Mandela, one of the many who nominated Mr Bizos said, ‘I know of no person more worthy for this honour’.

2002 Pheroze Nowrojee, Kenya. Presented with the Award for his work in defence of capital punishment cases and abolishment of the death penalty in Kenya and Tanzania and his representation of both individuals and organisations in cases concerned with a diverse range of human rights issues.

2000 Asma Jahangir, Pakistan. Presented with the Award for her work to promote and protect human rights in Pakistan and for her promotion of human rights.

1998 Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Nigeria. Presented the Award for his ongoing campaign for a just rule of law in Nigeria.

1997 Lucy Banda Sichone, Zambia. Presented with the Award for work representing disadvantaged members of her local community in Zambia and her civic education activities.

1995 Saul Lehfreund, United Kingdom. Presented with the Award for his work to advance the rights of death row prisoners in the Caribbean


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