Fariba Davoodi Mohajer,
Defense Attorneys’ Day was on February 25th. It coincided with the 60th anniversary of the independence of the Iranian Bar Association. The day passed even as eight official attorneys, Narsin Sotoudeh, Mohammad Seifzadeh, Mostafa Daneshjoo, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, Abdolfattah Soltani, Hutan Kian and Ali Eslami, are in prison. These attorneys have been imprisoned for representing political and civil activists, staying true to their oath and not backing down in the face of threats from the Islamic Republic government. Some of these attorneys such as Mohammad Seifzadeh and Abdolfattah Soltani have been deprived of medical care and live in very poor conditions.
The truth is that attorneys in Iran are not free to act independently and are not protected by immunity. A basic demand by the Iranian Bar Association has always been the independence and freedom to act for attorneys. If this were available for attorneys, then we would not be witnessing the imprisonment of eight attorneys and the associated pressures and threats made on the attorneys who represent human rights related cases. These conditions, which are designed to guarantee the safety of attorneys, are clearly stated in all universal declarations.
It is clear that some members of the Iranian government and judicial system do not support the independence and the freedom to act for attorneys or the Bar Association, and the outcome has been to create obstacles for a fair trial and to violate the rights of defendants. Today in Iran, attorneys are being prosecuted, interrogated, tortured and imprisoned for their work. Sometimes, attorneys are threatened that if they accept a case, their license to practice law will be threatened. In a situation such as this, how can we expect the right of a fair defense to be provided for the defendants?
In 1955, a bill was passed to address this specific problem and it separated the Bar Associations from the governments and also gave attorneys the freedom to act. However, in recent years we have witnessed attorneys being exiled and imprisoned for prolonged terms.
Hutan Kian is one of these attorneys. In 2009 he represented Sakineh Mohammadi, a woman who had been sentence to death by stoning. Eventually, security forces arrested him and took him to an undisclosed location. Now, three years after his detention, his fate remains unclear.
Mostafa Daneshjoo and Amir Eslami are attorneys for the Gonabadi Dervishes, a religious minority. They have been imprisoned without trial for several months now. Daneshjoo suffers from respiratory illnesses and has been transferred to the 209 ward of Evin prison after being detained in Sari prison for six months. Omid Behroozi has recently been sent to solitary confinement for refusing to appear in court. Mohammad Seifzadeh, one of the founders of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), has been sentenced to six years of imprisonment. Abdolfattah Soltani has been sentenced to an 18 year exile in Borazjan and a 20 year ban from practicing law. He is also one of the founders of the Defenders of Human Rights Center. One of the charges against Mr. Soltani, that forms the basis for his sentence, was that he “obtained unlawful income” by receiving the Nuremberg Human Rights Award. This award has been given annually to human rights activists since 1995.
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, another member of the DHRC, is also currently imprisoned. Dadkhah, who had been arrested for representing members of the Freedom Movement in 2002, had his office shut down for the last time on July 8th, 2009. Mr. Dadkhah was the defense attorney for cases involving National-Religious activists, Gonabadi Dervishes, the cases of three students from Amir Kabir University, Abdolfattah Soltani and Yousef Nadarkhani, the priest who had been sentenced to death. Dadkhah had previously been sentenced to nine years of imprisonment, a 10 year ban from practising law, lashes and a number of fines by the 15th branch of the Revolutionary Court in July 2011. Attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh has been imprisoned since September 2010. She had represented human rights activists and individuals who had been killed or executed following the 2009 presidential election. She is a member of the DHRC, the One Million Signature Campaign to change discriminatory laws against women, the Society for Protecting the Children’s Rights. She had represented cases of human rights violations and women’s rights activists as well as children who were victims of child abuse and juveniles who had been sentenced to death. In 2008, Sotoudeh won the human rights award of the International Human Rights Committee in Italy.
The Bar Association celebrated Attorneys’ Day even though a number of its members are in prison and the independence of the association and attorneys are under question. The danger that this bill concerning attorney’s law will be passed, without an opinion provided by attorneys, increases every day.
It is obvious that the Islamic Republic government is trying to turn attorneys and their organizations into a subset of the government power structure. They have recently introduced the “Comprehensive Official Attorneys” bill to the government commission of bills. By passing this bill, the government can control all actions of the Bar Association such as approving the board of directors, suspending and revoking the licenses of attorneys and even controlling the properties and assets of the bar. Many of the decisions of this council cannot be challenged by the judicial authorities or the Administrative Court and if the bill passes, the right to a fair trial will be history. If the bill passes, the public and revolutionary courts can ban attorneys from working, and any attorney who does not act according to the wishes of the judicial system, can easily be subject to these bans. The bill is clearly in violation of international treaties and the commitments of the Islamic Republic. It also undermines the 10th Article in the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights concerning the right to a fair trial.
The Islamic Republic government will turn the Bar into a subset of the judicial branch. If this happens, pre-ordered courts will increase in the future and the fairness of the judges will vanish completely. Human rights organizations need to inform the Islamic Republic, international legal organizations and public opinion about the dangers of this monopoly and this concentration of power. This issue should be placed at the top of their agenda. The passing of such a bill would block the access of people to justice, tarnish the integrity of attorneys and destroy the legal foundations which have been formed for years in Iran. International organizations concerned with human rights and governments need to demand Iran to deliver on its commitments and respect international standards.
Fariba Davoodi Mohajer,