The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy [official website] and Vice President of the Commission Catherine Ashton [official profile] on Thursday condemned [text, PDF] Iran for its treatment of minorities and called on the country to cease its discriminatory policies. She also expressed her concern regarding the verdict of the Iran Court of Appeals in the case of Iranian human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani [JURIST news archive]. Ashton described Soltani as a "lawyer who bravely stood up to defend the rights of numerous human rights activists in his country" and called the country to immediately release him. The human rights lawyer has been sentenced to 13 years [JURIST report] of imprisonment by a Tehran Revolutionary Court [official website, in Persian; GlobaLex backgrounder] after initially being sentenced to 18 years [JURIST report] for spreading anti-government propaganda, accepting an illegal prize from Germany, endangering national security and being one of the founders of the Center for Human Rights Defenders [advocacy website], along with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi [Nobel profile].
Iran has been criticized for its detentions and harsh sentences of human rights defenders. In May, the Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, the situation of human rights in Iran, and the independence of judges and lawyers called [JURIST report] Iran to grant human rights defenders to carry out their legitimate activities and to take measures so that they receive adequate protections. In January 2011, the prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced [JURIST report] to 11 years for "acting against national security" and "making propaganda against the system." She was the lawyer for Arash Rahmanipour, who was arrested and executed [JURIST report] for his role in the post-election protests on charges of mohareb, or being an enemy of God.