Ayatollah Kashani’s Statements: Clear Indication of Pressure on Independent Lawyers
Within the past year, there has been mounting pressure on human rights lawyers not to represent politically active clients. Additionally, the Iranian Judiciary has been paying less attention to the defense provided in the case of political suspects. Recent statements made by the Tehran Friday Prayers Imam and Member of the Council of Experts Ayatollah Emami Kashani, create a fresh wave of concern for new limits set on these lawyers. In his Friday Prayers sermon, Kashani stated that defending suspects whose case files are not “legitimate,” is “forbidden.”
In a part of his sermon last week, Ayatollah Kashani addressed the judicial system in Iran, saying, “Lawyers must know that defending the illegitimate is forbidden. They should review the cases and defend them where it is legitimate, otherwise it is forbidden for them to defend it.” (Source: ISNA)
Kashani’s statements are made at a time when many political prisoners have had no access to a lawyer during their trials and lawyers’ defenses have been ignored in courts. Dozens of political prisoners have received verdicts for charges for which the Judiciary has failed to provide evidence. Furthermore, some political prisoners have received heavy sentences disproportionate to their charges.
It is alarming to observe that Kashani, a member of the Council of Experts, believes that the “legitimacy” of a case may be decided by merely “reviewing their files,” files that are often created and developed by security forces. “Confessions” in those files are almost all false and often the result of long periods of physical and psychological pressure and even torture. The fabricated case files of many people who have been sentenced to long prison terms directly contradict suspects’ statements and the supporting evidence in their files. Kashani’s directive to lawyers translates into asking lawyers to look at the fabricated case files of political prisoners and to turn down representing them.
In fact, Ayatollah Kashani speaks accurately about the fact that these days it is the “investigations” performed by security and judicial organizations that determine the legitimacy of a suspect’s case. If cases were to reflect a suspect’s lawful rights, there should never have been a case and the suspect would be released immediately.
Ayatollah Kashani’s statement is in explicit violation of Article 34 of the Iranian Constitution. According to this article, “it is the indisputable right of every citizen to seek justice by recourse to competent courts. All citizens have the right of access to such courts, and no one can be barred from courts to which he has a legal right of recourse.” In addition, Article 35 of the Iranian Constitution also makes it clear, “both parties to a lawsuit have the right in all courts of law to select an attorney, and if they are unable to do so, arrangements must be made to provide them with legal counsel.” Nowhere in the constitution does it say that if a lawyer reviews a case and finds it to be illegitimate, defense of the accused is “forbidden.”
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran finds the statement by Ayatollah Emami Kashani to be an example of pressures put on independent lawyers who defend the accused, especially political and security defendants who in the past few years have been tried in show trial courts, and have received sentences disproportionate to their charges. Also, in many cases, these trials have not been based on any testimonial and evidence of the crime. This statement means ‘the final word’ in court cases is made by security and judiciary forces who prepare cases under illegal conditions.