Open Letter to Ayatollah Shahroudi: Release Kaboudvand
25 November 2008
His Excellency Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaieh / Office of the Head of the Judiciary
cc: His Excellency Mohammad Khazaee
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the UN
I am writing on behalf of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran to express our serious concerns about the case of Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand.
Mr. Kaboudvand’s conviction and sentencing to a 10-year prison term have been upheld by Branch 54 of the Tehran Appeals Court. Kaboudvand has been charged and convicted for ”acting against national security through establishing the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan (HROK),” that is, activities undertaken as a human rights defender, which the Islamic Republic of Iran has a positive obligation to protect.
This case thus represents a serious failure of the judicial system of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We would, therefore, respectfully ask that you use your authority to review the charges against Mr. Kaboudvand; the conditions he has experienced in detention; the process of his trial and appeal; and his sentence with a view toward annulling his sentence and releasing him.
In what follows, we provide a brief summary and evaluation of the case from the perspective of international human rights law.
Kaboudvand was arrested at his office in Vanak Square in Tehran by four plain clothes security officers on 1 July 2007. Then he was transferred to his house, which was searched. He was subsequently taken to ward 209 of Evin Prison, the ward under the control of the Intelligence Ministry. He had been warned of a possible arrest prior to his detention.
Mr. Kaboudvand’s trial did not meet international standards of due process. The trial was postponed three times due to failure on the part of prosecutors and the judge to appear in court. The result was a period of around 8 months in detention waiting for trial because of the consequent delays, and a violation of the Islamic Republic’s legal obligation under Article 9(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which mandates prompt trials.
Mr. Kaboudvand was denied access to his lawyer except on a few occasions. His lawyer was allowed access only twice, before his hearing and trial, and was not allowed to confer with Kaboudvand during the hearing, although access to legal counsel is protected and permitted by Iranian law. The right to access to counsel has been affirmed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1988, in Principle 18(1) of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.
While in detention his bail was set at 150 million Toman, equivalent to USD 155,000, a sum beyond what his family could reasonably be expected to post, and which assured he would be kept in detention. The bail amount was not appropriate to the charges against him, as such a high bail amount is reserved for suspects on murder charges and other capital crimes.
Kaboudvand’s court hearing was closed, according to Article 188 of the Penal Code, para. 1., according to which trials may be closed in order to protect public morals. But the case against Kaboudvand had nothing to do with public morals. The closed hearing was thus a violation of Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of Iran’s treaty obligations under Article 14(1) of the ICCPR, which call for fair and public hearings.
Mr. Kaboudvand was eventually charged, in addition to “acting against national security by establishing the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan,” with “widespread propaganda against the system by disseminating news,” “opposing Islamic penal laws by publicizing punishments such as stoning and executions,” and “advocating on behalf of political prisoners.”
Evidence cited in court was focused on the establishment of the HROK in 2005, communicating human rights violations to United Nations agencies and writing to former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In addition, many other of the normal human rights monitoring and advocacy activities, which are not crimes in Iran, were cited as evidence supporting the charges against Kaboudvand, for example advocating for the equal rights of women and men and communicating with the Secretary General and High Commissioner for Human rights of the United Nations. The Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan was not operating illegally as was claimed during the trial. The organization was not registered, but it is not illegal to participate in an unregistered association.
According to all information the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has received, none of the activities of the HROK cited as evidence against Kaboudvand were shown to be threats to the national security of Iran. But these activities are all parts of the professional obligations of human rights defenders.
Your Excellency, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Under Article 6 of the Declaration, human rights defenders have the right to impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The government of Iran has an affirmative obligation to protect Kaboudvand and other rights advocates. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus in 1998, declares that states “shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of [human rights defenders] against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary actions” as a consequence of their legitimate effort to promote human rights.
While subjected to transparently false and politicized charges based on his human rights work, Kaboudvand’s rights as a prisoner have been severely abused.
He has been held in solitary confinement for five months of his confinement. The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has stated that prolonged solitary confinement may amount to a violation of the prohibition against torture and ill-treatment in Article 7 of the ICCPR.
He has been denied visits by his family other than one visit for 20 minutes, which is contrary to Principle 19 of the Body of Principles cited above.
Kaboudvand suffers from several life-threatening health problems, and reportedly suffered a stroke on 19 May 2008, caused by high blood pressure. He also suffers from a prostate condition. He has been denied medical care in prison, which is a blatant violation of the positive obligation of the Islamic Republic, and all sovereign states, to provide medical care to those in custody, who are not in a position to obtain such care themselves, according to Principle 24 of the Body of Principles and Rule 24 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which the United Nations General Assembly has called member states to accept in 1971.
Your Excellency, we sincerely believe that the objective facts of this case indicate a miscarriage of justice, a violation of obligations to the United Nations, and a grave violation of human rights that are a black mark on the Islamic Republic. We urge you to urgently review this unjust sentence and to order Kaboudvand’s release. Thank you for your consideration of our request.
Hadi Ghaemi, PhD
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran