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Jailed Iranian rights lawyer in 'good health'

TEHRAN (AFP) — Jailed Iranian rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been held in solitary confinement and reportedly began a hunger strike last month, is in "good health," Iran's top human rights official said Tuesday.

"Based on reports we have received, she is in good health and has met with her family," Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of the judiciary's High Council of Human Rights, told reporters.

Sotoudeh, 47, who won the 2012 European Parliament's Sakharov rights prize, went on hunger strike on October 17, according to numerous sources, including her husband, to protest her treatment in prison and the harassment of her family.

Known for representing opposition activists jailed after Iran's disputed 2009 presidential elections, as well as women and juveniles facing the death penalty, she was sentenced to 11 years in January 2011 and banned from practicing law for 20 years for conspiring against state security.

Sotoudeh has been held for a lengthy period in solitary confinement and regularly prevented from face-to-face meetings with her family, including her two children, according to Amnesty International.

The United Nations, the European Union and leading international human rights organisations have called on Tehran to release her.

UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed expressed concern about Sotoudeh's health in early November, due to her hunger strike.

Larijani gave no further details of Sotoudeh's conditions, but insisted that she was condemned under "normal judicial procedure," on charges of being in "contact with people involved in actions against the regime's security."

He also launched a scathing criticism of Shaheed, who has published damning reports detailing human rights violations in the Islamic Republic.

"Shaheed's reporting lacks legal, moral and technical basis," said Larijani, who is the older brother to Iran's judiciary chief and parliamentary speaker.

He claimed many of the complaints gathered by Shaheed against the Iranian regime were "invalid and baseless," describing him as a "grand failure" for the UN.

Asked about the death in custody of blogger Sattar Beheshti in early November, Larijani said the investigation was ongoing.

Preliminary investigations by the coroner, the prosecutor and a parliamentary committee suggest Beheshti's death was caused by mistreatment, either through beating or psychological torture, at the hands of Iran's "cyber police," created to hunt down opponents active on the Internet.

According to Iranian media, seven people have been arrested so far in the investigation, whose results will eventually be made public.

This "proves the strength of the Iranian judicial system," Larijani said.

Beheshti's death provoked outrage inside the regime, in a rare case of Iran accepting international criticism over a human rights complaint.