Iran must end the 'Serial arrests' of lawyers, says Amnesty

Amnesty International today called for the immediate release of three Iranian Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights lawyers, and another two colleagues, detained on Saturday 13 November.

Maryam Kiyan Ersi, Maryam Karbasi and Sara Sabaghian were detained on Saturday upon returning from Turkey, and now face security charges and charges of ‘violating moral standards outside Iran.’

Sara Sabaghian is believed to have been the last remaining free lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman whose stoning sentence for adultery is currently under review by Iran’s Supreme Court.

Tehran prosecutor Ja’fari Dowlatabadi reportedly confirmed that they, along with two other lawyers, not named but believed to be Rosa Gharachaloo and Mohammad Hossein Naiyri, were arrested on Saturday 13 November.

In a 15 November letter to Iran’s Head of Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, Amnesty International called for the three Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and their two colleagues to be immediately and unconditionally released if they are being held solely for their work as lawyers or for the exercise of their right to freedom of expression and assembly.

In its letter, Amnesty International expressed concern that the five detainees are prisoners of conscience.

As well as Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, Sara Sabaghian has represented the blogger Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki who is serving a 15 year sentence. Sabaghian was previously arrested along with a number of other lawyers on 8 July 2009, and is a member of the Iranian Bar Association's Committee for the Defence of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights's Rights.

Maryam Kiyan Ersi is one of the lawyers representing Kobra Najjar, a woman who was sentenced to death by stoning. Her sentence was changed to 100 lashes in January 2009.

The three lawyers had also lobbied in April against a draft law that would further facilitate polygamy for men.   

Amnesty International fears that more than a year after the unrest that followed the 12 June 2009 presidential election and its disputed outcome, Iran’s crackdown on dissent in general, and lawyers in particular, is only getting wider and deeper. The waves of arbitrary arrests of lawyers suggest that the judiciary has given carte blanche to the security forces to stop any lawyer whose work or statements get in their way.

The arrest of these five lawyers is part of the entrenched pattern of repression of lawyers and deepening marginalisation of the Iranian Bar Association which has emerged under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is another in a series of measures intended to prevent Iranians – particularly those critical of the authorities - from being able to access appropriate, competent legal representation, a basic right and important fair trial guarantee.

On 15 November, speaking to the Bar Associations, the head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani said that some lawyers' declarations and interviews to foreign media regarding judicial actions are an insult to the community of lawyers. The judiciary wants lawyers to refrain from commenting on cases and frequently brings charges against lawyers when they do so.

The authorities are also resorting to other methods to prevent lawyers from practising their profession freely. Such measures include unwarranted tax investigations under which the authorities freeze the lawyers’ bank accounts and other financial assets, which could lead to the disbarring of a lawyer.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges has not been permitted to visit the country despite the Standing Invitation issued by Iran to all UN human rights mechanisms in 2002. Since August 2005, no UN human rights expert has been allowed to undertake a visit to Iran. Currently eight procedures have pending requests to visit, which have not yet been acceded to by the Iranian authorities.

In 2008, prominent lawyers and joint co-founders of the now banned Centre for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), Mohammad Dadkhah, Dr Hadi Esmailzadeh, Fatemeh Gheyrat and Abdolfattah Soltani were disqualified from standing for the Central Board of the Bar Association because of their activities as human rights defenders.

In June 2009, less than a week after the disputed presidential election, new by-laws to the 1955 law establishing the independence of the Iranian Bar Association were adopted which would give the Judiciary the power to approve membership of the Bar and lawyers’ licensing applications, thereby undermining the independence of the Bar. Following opposition by the Bar and individual lawyers, in July 2009, it was reported that implementation of the by-laws had been suspended for six months. They are believed to remain suspended, but could be implemented at any time.

Also in June 2009, just prior to the election itself, Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, head of the CHRD, left Iran, fearing for her safety. On 16 June 2009, Abdolfattah Soltani was detained and held until August 2009. In July 2009, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah was briefly arrested, along with Sara Sabaghian.

In May 2010, Mohammad Oliyaeifard, a lawyer and board member of the Committee for the Defence of Political Prisoners in Iran, a human rights organisation, started serving a one-year prison sentence imposed for speaking out against the execution of one of his clients, a juvenile offender, during interviews with international media. His client, Behnoud Shojaee, had been hanged for a murder he committed when he was 17 years old. Mohammad Olyaeifard has defended many prisoners of conscience, including independent trade unionists, as well as juvenile offenders. His lawyer is Nasrin Sotoudeh.

In July 2010, Mohammad Mostafaei, a lawyer who has taken up both child offender and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights’s cases, faced an arrest warrant, after which his wife was detained. He subsequently left the country.

On 4 September 2010, lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested after she presented herself in compliance with a court summons. Sotoudeh has defended many high profile human rights campaigners and political activists, including journalist Isa Saharkhiz and Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, leader of the banned Democratic Front of Iran. The former was sentenced and the latter tried after Nasrin Sotoudeh’s arrest.

Nasrin Sotoudeh has also represented juvenile offenders facing the death penalty and is acting as the lawyer for Shirin Ebadi in several cases. She has been denied regular contact with both her family and her lawyer. She has gone on hunger strike to attract attention to her plight, ending it at the first session of her trial, on 15 November. She faced vaguely worded charges of ‘acting against national security’; ‘gathering and colluding to disturb national security’; and ‘co-operation with [a human rights body,] the Centre for Human Rights. There are fears that she may have been tortured in detention. Nasim Ghanavi, the first lawyer for Nasrin Sotoudeh was warned against speaking up publicly about her ordeal.

Mohammad Seyfzadeh was sentenced at the end of October to nine years’ imprisonment and to a 10 year ban on practising law, despite the fact that only the Disciplinary Court for Lawyers may impose such professional bans, for “forming an association… whose aim is to harm national security” and “being a member of an association whose aim is to harm national security” in relation to the CHRD. He was banned from leaving the country in 2009, as was Dr Hadi Esmailzadeh, another member of the CHRD.

Lawyer Javid Houtan Kiyan, who represents Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was arrested on 10 October. On 15 November he was forced to appear, partially pixellated, in a television programme aimed at undermining his legal position.  

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