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Iran: proposed law could see those facing death sentences denied lawyers

Tehran's notorious Evin Prison is where numerous 'national security' prisoners are held © Amnesty International

MPs to vote on denying lawyers to those held on ‘national security’ grounds 

First 20 days of investigation without a lawyer could be prolonged 

‘If passed by MPs it would be a crushing blow to Iran’s already deeply defective justice system’ - Philip Luther

A proposed new law in Iran could see those charged with serious crimes - including ones carrying death sentences or amputation punishments - deprived of a lawyer for long periods, in some cases for the whole period of an official investigation into their alleged crimes, said Amnesty International today, as it published an analysis of the proposed changes. 

If passed, the amended law would permit the prosecution to immediately deprive individuals arrested on “national security” - and certain other serious criminal charges - access to a lawyer for 20 days, which could be extended to cover the whole investigation phase. 

The proposed amendment is intended to replace an already flawed provision in the Note to Article 48 of the country’s Code of Criminal Procedure. This provision currently requires that individuals facing charges related to “national security” and certain organised crimes select their lawyer from a list of names approved by the head of the judiciary. Iranian lawmakers had announced last June that this would be reformed so as to grant detainees access to a lawyer of their choosing. Instead, in some cases they are to be deprived of lawyers altogether. 

Iran’s legal and judicial parliamentary commission announced earlier this month (6 May) that it had a prepared a draft amendment to the law which is expected to be scheduled for a vote in Iran’s parliament in the coming weeks.  

In Iran, those charged with “national security” offences include human rights defenders, journalists and political dissidents targeted solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights. For decades, the Iranian authorities have failed to ensure that the right to access a lawyer is respected, particularly during the investigation phase.

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research and Advocacy Director, said:

“Denial of prompt access to a lawyer is a serious violation of the right to a fair trial in all circumstances, but it is particularly shocking in cases where individuals are at risk of being sentenced to severe or irreversible punishments such as execution, amputation and life imprisonment.

“This is a regressive piece of draft legislation which would effectively remove the right to a lawyer in a wide range of criminal investigations and contravene Iran’s obligations under international law. 

“If passed by MPs it would be a crushing blow to Iran’s already deeply defective justice system and could further consolidate patterns of torture and other ill-treatment against detainees to extract forced confessions during interrogations International.”

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