Iran, an open-air prison for lawyers: A report

Posted on: September 9th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – This past week has seen a sharp increase in the arrests of lawyers in Iran, many among them specialists in defending civil rights, women’s rights, and human rights activists.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi shed light on this trend in an exchange with HRANA, stating that Iranian officials and its judiciary aim to create a climate of intimidation in which citizens find it easier to turn a blind eye to government abuses of power.

“[Authorities] prefer no one dare protest [their] unlawful actions,” Ebadi said.

She went on to note that arrests of lawyers not only put innocent people behind bars, but they also leave the lawyer’s clients–often prisoners of conscience and other political detainees–defenseless.

Ebadi drew on historical context to explain that authorities of the early Islamic Republic recognized legal scholars and independent lawyers as “nuisances,” or impediments to illicit activity, from the outset. This wariness on the part of the Iranian authorities led an appointee of the Judiciary to close the Iranian Bar Association for 18 years.

When authorities finally sanctioned elections for the Bar Association’s new board of directors, their permission roughly coincided with the passing of a law mandating all members be pre-approved by a Judiciary-controlled organ called the Disciplinary Court of Judges. Ebadi cites this filtering as the reason behind the Bar Association’s lack of autonomy, as it is known to refrain from advocating for its arrested members.

The following is a list of legal practitioners affected by this recent wave of repression.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, lawyer and human rights activist

Nasrin Sotoudeh was among the first lawyers arrested on June 13th of this year. She was arrested in her home and subsequently taken to Evin Prison.

According to lawyer Payam Derafshan, who was arrested himself on August 31st and has since been released, Sotoudeh is being held on three counts: a five-year sentence for espionage, which does not figure on her formal charge sheet; a lawsuit brought by a prosecutorial interrogator in the central Iranian city of Kashan; and an arrest order issued by Branch 2 of the Interrogations Unit.

The prosecutorial interrogator recently doubled down on his accusations against Sotoudeh, presenting new charges of “helping to form house churches,” “inciting the organization of a referendum,” and “attempts to organize gatherings.”

Sotoudeh declared hunger strike on August 25th to protest both her arrest and the judicial pressures being placed upon her family, relatives, and friends.

Abdolfatah Soltani, lawyer, activist, and human rights defender

Soltani’s September 10, 2011 arrest was followed by a sentence of 18 years in prison and a 20-year ban from the Iranian bar association. According to an Iranian court, his trespasses include his acceptance of the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award, statements he made to the media about his casework, and his role as co-founder of the Center for Supporters of Human Rights (CSHR).

Soltani’s prison sentence was reduced to 13 years in an appeals court. Pursuant to the principle of concurrent sentences per Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code, his sentence was reduced again to 10 years, and his 20-year Bar-association ban was reduced to two.

Years of enduring poor living conditions in prison, including being cut off from nutritious food and [potable] water, have taken a toll on Soltani: he now suffers from a host of health issues including broken teeth, anemia, irritable bowel syndrome, and [abnormal] blood pressure fluctuations.

The formal record of Soltani’s charges equates his human rights activities to “acting against national security.” Ten of the accusations being levelled against him are listed below:

1- Forming the illegal anti-security body CSHR
2- Giving interviews to counter-revolutionary media and foreign enemies
3- Acting against the regime on the pretext of human rights
4- Waging anti-regime psychological campaigns via published statements
5- Portraying Baha’i cult members as victims
6- Publishing human rights reports, all while cognizant of their adverse impact on Iranian national security and foreign politics and of their potential exploitation by the enemies of the revolution
7- Slandering the judiciary regarding testimonies extracted by torture and intimidation in prison
8- Disseminating disparaging news about the country and compromising public faith in the judiciary
9- Defending human rights cases and extremist clients on a pro bono basis
10-Anti-Islamic propagandizing and violating the principles of Islam by indiscriminately condemning execution sentences and implicitly rejecting the principle of Qesas [retribution] by calling it violent

While Soltani was in prison, his daughter Homa died of a heart attack on August 3rd at the age of 27. He was granted restricted furlough to attend her funeral.

Ghasem Sholeh-Saadi and Arash Kaykhosravi, lawyers and human rights activists

On August 18th, a number of protestors were detained during a public demonstration before Tehran’s Parliament building in protest to both the Caspian Sea treaty and the vetting of election candidates by the Guardian Council. Three lawyers–Ghasem Sholeh-Saadi, Arash Kaykhosravi, and Masoud Javadieh–were among those detained.

Several arrestees were released within hours, and Javadieh was released on bail the following day. Sholeh-Saadi and Kaykhosravi, facing charges from Branch 5 of the Evin prosecutor’s office, were sent to Great Tehran Penitentiary.

On August 21st, Sholeh-Saadi and Kaykhosravi, were sent again to the Evin prosecutor’s office, shackled and in prison garb. They were read their charges (“gathering and collusion against national security”), issued a one-month arrest order, and returned to prison.

Sholeh-Saadi is a legal scholar and former member of parliament. He had previously been convicted and jailed for “insulting the Supreme Leader” in a letter he infamously published in 2002.

Kaykhosravi has taken on such high-profile cases as that of lawyer Mohammad Najafi and Kavous Seyed Emami, the university professor and environmental activist who died in Evin Prison on February 8th. Prison authorities claimed Emami had committed suicide.

Kaykhosravi has since been transferred to Evin Prison.

Payam Dorafshan and Farokh Forouzan, lawyers

Attorneys Payam Dorafshan and Farrokh Forouzan were arrested in the home of their imprisoned colleague Arash Kaykhosravi on August 31st.

Dorafshan was among a group of lawyers suing Bijan Ghasemzadeh, interrogator in Branch Two of the Culture and Media court, for his decision to ban the popular messaging app Telegram. Forouzan works in children’s rights.

Both have since been released. The reason for their arrest remains unclear.

Mohammad Najafi, lawyer and human rights activist

On July 29th, Branch 102 of the Second Criminal Court in the central Iranian city of Arak sentenced lawyer Mohammad Najafi and dozens of other citizens to prison terms for participating in January’s Shazand County protests.

Najafi was convicted of “disrupting order and public peace by taking part in illegal gatherings” and sentenced to one year in prison plus 74 lashes. Prior charges of “publishing false information to disrupt the public conscience” brought the prison sentence to a total of two years.

Najafi is among those investigating the death of a protestor in January’s Shazand protests. He publicly spoke out about the death of Vahid Heydari, a citizen who died while in the custody of authorities after being arrested in Arak.

Zaynab Taheri

Lawyer Zaynab Taheri was arrested on June 19th, one day after the execution of her client Mohammadreza Salas Babajani, a Sufi Dervish prisoner convicted of killing three police officers. She had publicly advocated for Babajani on social media.

She was arrested by the Culture and Media court and convicted of both “publishing falsehoods to disrupt the public conscience” and “propaganda against the regime.” She was released on bail August 8th.

On August 31st, the International Federation of Human Rights, known by its French acronym FIDH, expressed concern over the harassment of Taheri by judicial authorities, asking Iranian officials to cease their harassment of her and other human rights defenders.

Taheri’s clients included Salas Babajani, Mohammad Ali Taheri, and Ahmadreza Jalali.

Hoda Amid, lawyer and women’s rights activist

On the morning of September 10th, security forces arrested Hoda Amid in her home along with Najmeh Vahedi, another women’s rights activist with a formal education in sociology who was with Amid at the time. Amid and Vahedi are known to have organized educational training workshops for women inquiring about their rights in marriage contracts.

The precise reason for Amid’s arrest and her current status remain unknown.

“We still can’t believe it” Imprisoned Lawyer Reacts to Death of Homa Soltani

Posted on: August 15th, 2018

Human Rights Activists’ News Agency (HRANA) — Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer and human rights activist who has been detained in Tehran’s Evin prison since June 13th on charges of collusion and propaganda against the regime, has written an open letter in reaction to the sudden death of Homa Soltani, daughter of fellow Evin prisoner Abdolfattah Soltani who is also a lawyer and activist. Ms Soltani recently died from a heart attack at the age of 27.

Nasrin Sotoudeh is a prominent human rights lawyer who has a history of arrests and imprisonment for her outspoken defense of human rights. Below is the English translation of Ms Sotoudeh’s letter:

My darling girl, my dear Homa,

It has been three days since you flew away from this world and we still can’t believe it. In our disbelief, we still wish that it could be a lie. Ah, if only it could be a nightmare, if only…

The women’s prison mourns for you. You had lost the embrace of your father years ago, my dear one. You know what, Homa? A father’s embrace gives one security and you were without it for years. This was something no one else could give you.

Many only knew about the seven years that you had been deprived of your father thanks to the revolutionary courts of injustice. But as far as I remember, your father was always dealing with his cases – cases for activists, colleagues and those they made against himself. You were raised with this news around you, you grew up like this and anxiety filled your childish existence. The temptation of human rights, the rights of dissidents, the rights of the accused and the rights of this person or that didn’t leave your father, Abdolfattah Soltani, alone. He had so honestly given his honor to the community of lawyers that he had forgotten himself and his family; how sad is this story.

Your father was once sentenced to three months in prison. Another time, the revolutionary court of injustice gave him five years but the appeals court repealed it. But the machinery of violence didn’t stop working against this freedom-loving lawyer. During the election crisis of 2009, they once more sought him first and he had to spend two months in detention. He was freed and two years later again arrested. Prison, prison, prison…

I don’t think of what made your father tick because I know it so well. I think of the world of your childhood, your teenage years, your youth; how innocently it was crushed under the weight of our ideals and their violence.

My dear Homa,

What happened to you every time your father was arrested? To you, your sister, brothers and mother?

I have asked myself many times: If Homa had her father by her side every morning when she woke up; if her father took her to university, school or work on some days and was with her throughout her daily problems; if they had dinner together at nights and then slept under the same roof; would the same happen to Homa? No, never…

Nasrin Sotoudeh
Women’s Prison
August 2018

***

Abdolfattah Soltani, who is being held in Evin Prison, was granted a furlough to take part in his daughter’s funeral.

Amnesty International reacted to Homa’s death and asked for the immediate release of Abdolfattah Soltani and all human rights defenders.

On August 5th, Saeed Dehqan, Mr Soltani’s lawyer, wrote to President Hassan Rouhani to say his client had been arrested by the political decisions of people such as former judge Saeed Mortazavi.

Mr Soltani is spending his seventh year in Evin. He has contracted many illnesses in prison.

Abdolfattah Soltani was first arrested on September 10, 2011. He was accused of having accepted the International Nuremberg Human Rights Award, speaking to the media about his clients and taking part in the founding of the Center for the Defenders of Human Rights. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison and barred from practising law for 20 years. An appeals court reduced his sentence to 13 years and it was further reduced to 10 years based on the provisions of the new Iran penal code. His disbarring has also been reduced to two years.

The testimony of 41 political prisoners in ward 350 of Evin: Sattar Beheshti had been tortured

Posted on: November 10th, 2012

HRANA News Agency – According to reports published by media outlets, Sattar Beheshti was arrested by the cyber police, a subsidiary of the nation’s security forces on October 30th 2012. On November 6th, Mr Beheshti’s family was reportedly informed of his passing, requesting that his body be collected at the Kahrizak morgue. All along, the family was threatened not to speak to anyone regarding this matter.

Give that Mr. Sattar Beheshti was at Evin’s general ward 350 from October 31st 2012 to November 1st 2012 and the detainees at this ward had therefore witnessed his painful physical and psychological condition first hand, we view it our national and religious duty to inform the honorable Iranian nation of Mr. Beheshti’s background and predicament.

Sattar Beheshti was charged as a result of his criticism of the authorities of the ruling establishment in his personal blog.  He told eye witnesses at Evin’s ward 350 that while in custody at the police headquarters, he had first been severely beaten while hanging from the ceiling and later beaten further while tied to a chair. Sometimes  he was beaten while his hands were tied and at other times he was pushed to the ground and kicked severely in the area of the head and neck by interrogators wearing army boots.  While being tortured, Beheshti was reportedly subjected to the most vulgar curses attacking his honor and his interrogators repeatedly threatened to kill him.

When arriving at Evin’s ward 350, evidence of torture was apparent throughout Sattar’s body and he was in a painful physical and psychological state. His face was scarred, his head was swollen, his wrists and arms were bruised and the effects of hanging from the ceiling were apparent on his wrists.  Bruises were also apparent on other parts of his body such as around his neck, his stomach and his back.

Despite the fact that he was barely able to write as a result of his beatings, Sattar nevertheless filed a short complaint to the authorities of Evin’s ward 350, describing his condition and the manner in which he had been treated at the hands of the security agents, demanding that they follow up on his case.

Given that his physical condition was far from normal, Sattar was taken to the prison infirmary on two occasions where the physician at the infirmary was also able to witness his condition first hand.

On November 1st, 2011, Sattar a young and true activist of the Green Movement was once again transferred from Evin’s ward 350 to the security police headquarters. He was extremely concerned when leaving the ward and told other detainees: “They intend to kill me.”  Four days after his transfer, his family was informed of his death.

Those who claim to be the followers of Imam Ali must be reminded of his response to the news of a Jewish women’s torture under his reign, her legs bruised, when he stated: ” If a victim dies, they are not to blame.”

They witness the cruelty, injustices, atrocities, torture and murder and remain indifferent, without losing even a night’s sleep. In recent years and following the 2009 presidential elections we have repeatedly witnessed this type of torture of detainees at the hands of the security and cyber police. There are individuals currently at Evin’s ward 350 who have personally been subjected to such torture.  We hereby testify that we have witnessed the existence of numerous cases of torture of detainees at the hands of the agents of the security police at Evin’s ward 350.

We believe that if the criminals at Kahrizak prison and the torturers at Evin prison whose accounts of torture have been repeatedly published and are known to the authorities of the ruling establishment, would be punished rather than encouraged and promoted,  such heinous Kahrizak style tortures and cases of murder would no longer be repeated.

It has now been proven to all of us that when it comes to the current ruling establishment our cries will only fall on deaf ears.  While offering our condolences to the family of the late Sattar Beheshti and the oppressed Iranian nation, we remind everyone that the current ruling establishment, whether they like it or not, are responsible for the cruelty, torture and unjust bloodshed of innocent victims.

Signatories:

Mohammad Ebrahimi

Hossein Asadi Zeidabadi

Amir Eslami

Reza Ansari Rad

Ibrahim (Nader) Babai Zeydi

Emaad Bahavar

Seyed Ali Reza Beheshti Shirazi

Amid Behroozi

Amin Chalaki

Siyavash Hatem

Omid Kharazmiyan

Mehdi Khodaii

Mohammad Davari

Amir Khosro Dalirsani

Seyed Mohammad Ali Dadkhah

Ali Reza Rajaii

Mohammad Rezaii

Farzad Rouhi

Hossein Zarini

Abdolfatah Soltani

Adris Seyedin

Pouriya Shahpari

Mohsen (Bahman) Sadeghi Nour

Mohammad Farid Taheri Ghazvini

Bahador Alizadeh

Afshin Karampour

Hamid Reza Karvasi

Amir Garshasbi

Jafar Ganji

Siyamak Ghaderi

Abolfazl Ghadyani

Ali Akbar Ghoti

Farshi Lahouti

Abdollah Momeni

Mohsen Mirdamadi

Mostafa Nili

Mohammad Ali Velayati

Farshid Yadollahi

Mohammad Hassan Youssef Pourseyfi

Mohammad Amin Hadavi

Seyed Ahmad Hashemi