TEHRAN: Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who was awarded the Sakharov prize on Friday is a leading figure in the defence of human rights in Iran, where she is serving a jail term for her work alongside Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.
In January 2011, Sotoudeh, 47, from a religious middle class family and the mother of two, was sentenced to 11 years in prison and handed a 20-year ban from practising law for "acting against national security and propaganda against the regime."
The two charges are frequently used by Iran's judiciary to convict opponents.
She was also sentenced for her membership in the Centre for Human Rights Defenders founded by Shirin Ebadi, who turned into a nemesis of the Iranian regime and now lives in exile.
After studying law at the prestigious Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, Sotoudeh fought for several years for the right to practise as a lawyer in the late 1990s.
She began her career by concentrating on rights of youths sentenced to death for crimes committed as minors, one of many judicial practices in Iran regularly condemned by international humanitarian organisations and the UN.
But from 2009, Sotoudeh defended many opponents of the Iranian government, hundreds of whom were rounded up for protesting the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier that year.
She was the lawyer of several figures, ranging from journalist Issa Saharkhiz, close to then reformist opposition leader Mehdi Karoubi, to many demonstrators who took to the streets after the election.
She also defended Ebadi and other members of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders, including fellow lawyers who paid a heavy price for their actions.
Two co-founders of the organisation, Abdolfattah Soltani and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, were sentenced earlier this year to 18 and 19 years imprisonment, respectively.
Sotoudeh also drew the wrath of the regime for the interviews she gave to Western media outlets after the crackdown in 2009, which figured in the charges against her in her own trial.
Jailed since August 2010 at the notorious Evin prison in northern Tehran, the lawyer has not given up. Sotoudeh has gone on two hunger strikes to protest her detention conditions and a ban on seeing her three-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.
Her husband Reza Khandan has vigorously defended her, triggering lawsuits by the regime, according to Amnesty International.
"She talked about the cases she was handling and informed the public sometimes of the flaws in the case. She did not insult anybody and never said anything harsh. This is not a crime," Khandan told AFP in January 2011.
"Where in the world do they jail a mother for giving a couple of interviews?" asked Khandan who found the sentence "totally shocking."
Following her arrest and conviction reduced on appeal in September 2011 to six years in prison, according to Amnesty International Sotoudeh is described as a prisoner of conscience by the human rights organisation.
The European Parliament and European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, have expressed support for Sotoudeh.