Attorney Blocked From Taking on Human Rights Cases in Iran Calls For Revision of “Flawed” Law
A lawyer representing the family of an Iranian Canadian academic who recently died in an Iranian prison has joined the growing list of attorneys in Iran who have criticized the judiciary’s decision to force citizens held on politically motivated charges to pick their lawyer from a list.
“Unfortunately, the law is flawed and we need to try to change it,” attorney Arash Keykhosravi told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on March 22, 2018.
“In several cases in recent months, my colleagues and I have been told that our names are not on the list, or they say our credentials need to be approved and eventually we have been rejected,” he added.
“This is a problem in our laws and legislators should try to nullify or remove the exclusions in Article 48 because it’s preventing fairness in the judicial process,” said Keykhosravi.
In January 2018, judicial offices in several Iranian cities received lists of lawyers that have been allowed by the judicial branch to take on cases involving national security charges at the preliminary investigation stage.
Iran’s Constitution sets no limits or conditions on the right to legal counsel.
Article 35 states, “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.”
According to Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Procedures Regulations, people have the right to ask for and have a meeting with a lawyer as soon as they are detained. However, the “Note to Article 48” makes exceptions: “In cases of crimes against internal or external security…during the investigation phase, the parties to the dispute are to select their attorneys from a list approved by the head of the judiciary.”
“We [lawyers] are unable to take on security cases, although I’ve noticed that many of these cases have nothing to do with national security because the country’s security has not been harmed or threatened,” Keykhosravi told CHRI.
“Many of these cases have been pointlessly labeled as security cases. This has roots in our history and authoritarian culture and the authorities have no tolerance for listening to opposing voices,” he added.
Keykhosravi’s clients include the families of Kavous Seyed-Emami and Mohammad Raji, two of the five victims who died in state custody in Iran between January and March 2018.
Keykhosravi has been blocked from officially representing human rights lawyer Mohammad Najafi, who is facing several national security charges for telling media outlets that local police were concealing the real cause of his client’s death in custody.
“In response to our inquiries regarding Mr. Najafi’s case, we were told that we are not on the judiciary’s list of authorized lawyers,” Payam Derafshan, Najaf’s other lawyer, told CHRI on March 10, 2018.
“The judicial authorities showed me a list of seven lawyers who have been approved to take these cases in Markazi Province,” he added. “Now we are requesting that the Parliament investigate why, out of thousands of licensed lawyers, only seven have received approval?”
On March 12, 2018, Ali Mojtahedzadeh, the counsel of an imprisoned Telegram news channel administrator, also said he had been denied the right to defend his client due to the Note to Article 48.
“When I went to Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, the presiding judge told me that he needs to check my credentials and later I was told that the judiciary chief had rejected me,” he said.
In March 2018, three human rights lawyers based in Iran explained to CHRI why the Note to Article 48 impedes justice in the Islamic Republic.
“It’s like telling someone you can get an operation from only three surgeons selected by us, not any of the thousands of other doctors in the city,” prominent human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh told CHRI.
“The judiciary chief’s [Sadegh Larijani’s] ill-conceived action is a dangerous precedent,” she added. “In a big province such as West Azerbaijan, where there are more than 3,000 lawyers, only 32 have been put on an approved list.”