Pelosi calls for release of Iranian rights activist

Shiva Nazar Ahari faces charges including "propaganda against regime".

Washington: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged Tehran to release an Iranian human rights activist who is scheduled to go on trial on Saturday on charges that could carry death penalty.

Shiva Nazar Ahari, a rights activist specialising in child labour and the defence of political prisoners, faces "trumped-up charges" including "actions against national security" and "propaganda against the regime".

The 26-year-old is a former editor and current spokesperson for the Committee of Human Rights Reporters.

"Shiva Nazar Ahari is a brave champion for human rights. The actions by Iranian authorities to arrest and try her under vague charges are in clear violation of international human rights standards. World leaders should send a clear message that she should be released from prison, immediately and unconditionally," Pelosi said in a statement.

Her activism and defence of political prisoners have made her a target of the Iranian government, the Speaker said.

Ahari has been held in Tehran`s Evin Prison since December 2009 and has had no access to a lawyer or an opportunity to prepare a defence, the statement said.

"Shiva Nazar Ahari has spent her life fighting for human rights and is a role model for women all over the world. At the age of 17, she was arrested for participating in a candlelight vigil for the victims of 9/11," Pelosi said.

"She has been expelled from her university and imprisoned in solitary confinement for 33 days as a result of her activism. She has most recently been imprisoned since December 2009 without access to a lawyer or the ability to prepare a defence, both in violation of international human rights standards and Iranian law," she noted.

In the meantime, a US human rights group urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to secure the release of the prominent Iranian journalist.

Ahari is also charged with "waging war against God" for her alleged membership in the exile Mujahedeen-e Khalq Organisation, which carries the death penalty. She has denied any connection to the organisation, which is the militant wing of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran.

The Mujahedeen-e Khalq fought alongside Saddam Hussein`s forces during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and carried out a series of bloody bombings and assassinations in Iran during that decade, though it says it renounced violence in 2001.

The American Jewish Committee`s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights said Ahari`s case "exemplifies the sorry state of human rights in Iran”.

UN associate spokesman Yves Sorokobi said the secretary-general`s office received the letter but the point person for this issue is UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.