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

Tuesday, 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. 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.

Three Queen’s students nominated Sotoudeh for the honorary degree in 2019 and the idea garnered wide support from the campus community. 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.



“Nasrin Sotoudeh has fought bravely for human rights throughout her career and serves as an inspiration to many around the world. 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.”

- Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University

“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. And 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.”

- Irwin Cotler, international legal counsel to Sotoudeh and former Minister of Justice


“When we nominated Nasrin Sotoudeh for an honorary degree, we wanted 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. It 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.”

- Daniel Power, one of the three students who originally nominated Sotoudeh for the honorary degree and a graduate of the Queen’s Class of 2019



Video of conferral ceremony

Process and policies for Queen’s honorary degrees

History of Queen’s honorary degrees and previous recipients

Human rights organizations call for release of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh


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Media Contacts

Anne Craig
Media Relations Officer 

Julie Brown
Media Relations Officer