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Top PEN prize to honor Nasrin Sotoudeh, jailed Iranian lawyer, writer, and women's rights advocate

(PEN American Center/IFEX) - New York City, April 13, 2011 - PEN American Center today named Nasrin Sotoudeh, a writer, lawyer, and leader of the women's and children's rights movement in Iran, as the recipient of its 2011 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Sotoudeh was arrested on September 4, 2010, and is now serving an 11-year sentence for her outspoken advocacy in defense of her clients arrested after the June 2009 presidential elections and interviews she gave to human rights organizations and media about their cases.

The award, which honors international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression, will be presented at PEN's Annual Gala on April 26, 2011, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, a close friend and associate of Ms. Sotoudeh, will attend the PEN Gala on April 26, 2011, and receive the award on her behalf. Ms. Ebadi, who is the author of Iran Awakening and the newly released memoir The Golden Cage: Three Brothers, Three Choices, One Destiny, will be available for interviews in conjunction with the event.

"Nasrin Sotoudeh not only embodies the spirit of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, but also the spirit of this remarkable year," said Kwame Anthony Appiah, president of PEN American Center. "As a writer, as an activist, and as a lawyer she has dedicated herself to a simple and powerful idea: the principle that the rights guaranteed by law are absolute and shared equally by all. At a moment when women and men around the world are standing together peacefully to reclaim this most basic truth, she is in one of the world's most infamous prisons, to the great shame of the Iranian government. In honoring her with this award, we stand with the millions of Iranians she has stood up for and inspired, and we urge individuals and governments around the world to join us in pressing for her immediate release."

Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is 47 and the mother of two young children, began her activism in 1991 as the only female writer for the Nationalist-religious publication Daricheh Goftegoo; one of her first projects was to prepare a series of interviews, reports, and articles on Iranian women to mark International Women's Day, all of which her editor refused to run. After completing her Master's Degree in International Law at Shahid Behshti University, Sotoudeh passed the bar exam in 1995 but was not permitted to practice law for another eight years, and so she concentrated on journalism instead, writing for several reformist newspapers, including Jame'e. When she was finally granted a law license in 2003, she specialized in women's and children's rights while continuing to write articles addressing these issues. Her clients have included women's rights activists, among them the organizers of the grassroots, door-to-door One Million Signatures Campaign; journalists such as Isa Sharkhiz; political activists such as Hashmat Tabarzadi, head of Iran's banned opposition group the Democratic Front; and Shirin Ebadi herself. She has also represented prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors and many Iranian opposition activists arrested in the crackdown following the June 12, 2009 presidential elections.

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