Queen’s University grants honorary degree to human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

December 8, 2020- Queen’s University today conferred an honorary degree on Nasrin Sotoudeh in a special ceremony to recognize her profound contributions to the struggle for human rights and women’s equality in Iran.

Sotoudeh is a human rights lawyer who has been imprisoned by the Iranian government for her peaceful efforts to defend the rights of opposition activists, politicians, journalists, and women prosecuted for removing their headscarf. Her health already compromised by a lengthy hunger strike, she also recently contracted COVID-19 while in prison. Sotoudeh, 57, has been imprisoned several times in Iran for her work as a defense attorney and in 2018 she was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for advocating against the compulsory hijab.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane and Chancellor Jim Leech recorded a virtual conferral ceremony this week. “Nasrin Sotoudeh has fought bravely for human rights throughout her career and serves as an inspiration to many around the world," stated Deane. "The Queen’s community has shown enormous enthusiasm for awarding this honorary degree to her, as hundreds of students, dozens of faculty members, and the Queen’s Senate expressed their support for the nomination. It was especially meaningful to confer this degree just before International Human Rights Day.”

Irwin Cotler, Sotoudeh’s international legal counsel and former Minister of Justice of Canada, took part in the video ceremony and officially accepted the degree on her behalf. “It is my hope that this conferral of an honorary doctorate – this most deserving recognition by a great university like Queen’s – will be yet another testament to a person who is not only a hero of human rights in Iran but a hero of human rights for all" said Cotler.  "I hope that this will inspire her release from prison and her return to her family as a free woman, where she can continue to bring honour to the people of Iran and pursue the just cause of human rights for the betterment of the human condition for all.”

Three Queen’s students nominated Sotoudeh for the honorary degree in 2019 and the idea garnered wide support from the campus community. Daniel Power, one of the three student nominators said their nomination was intended  "to bring the Queen’s community together to support someone who had dedicated their career and freedom to upholding the rights of those unjustly prosecuted and persecuted."  Power went on to state that the honorary degree was "a way for Queen’s to demonstrate to both the global and national community that we stand in solidarity for the protection of human rights and the protection of the vulnerable. I am proud that Queen’s has granted her an honorary degree.”

Queen’s approved the nomination in January of this year and plans were in place to grant the degree at an upcoming convocation ceremony. However, following word of Sotoudeh’s deteriorating health, the university decided to award Sotoudeh her honorary degree this week, just ahead of International Human Rights Day on December 10.