Iran Protests: At Least 44 Defense Attorneys Arrested Since September
Crackdown Aimed at Destroying Any Chance of Fair Trials for Protesters
Detainees Forced to Use Court-Appointed Lawyers
January 10, 2023 – While the Islamic Republic has been gunning down and executing street protesters, it has also been arresting defense attorneys—at least 44 since September—to block their ability to seek justice for arbitrarily arrested activists and street protesters, according to research by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Meanwhile, detainees continue to be forced to use lawyers from a list approved by Judiciary Chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, a known human rights violator. This list only includes court-approved lawyers who either collaborate with the state security establishment or who do not have the resources to defend their clients.
“Due process in line with internationally recognized standards hasn’t existed in the Islamic Republic for decades,” said Ghaemi. “Yet there are still lawyers in the country who try to squeeze out any form of defense they can for their clients, or advocate for them publicly, which is why the Islamic Republic is jailing them.”
“The Islamic Republic is trying to silence dissent from every angle, including by killing or jailing those who raise their voices and completely eliminating defendants’ right to a fair trial,” he added.
“Human rights lawyers have been a lifeline and voice for activists seeking basic rights, so the authorities are trying to eliminate the last few lawyers in Iran still able and willing to take on these cases,” he said.
CHRI urges bar associations around the world to highlight individual cases of detained rights lawyers and strongly condemn their persecution, especially in international forums such as legal conferences, and to call attention to the systematic denial of due process in the Islamic Republic—including in death penalty cases where lives are at stake.
Already four young men have been hanged in brief, closed trials where independent counsel was denied, 20 are on death row, and at least 42 are facing charges that can carry the death penalty, according to research by CHRI.
Independent Lawyers Blocked from Defending Detainees, Persecuted for Advocating their Cases
“There are several groups of lawyers in Iran,” explained a lawyer in Iran who spoke to CHRI on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “First, there are independent human rights lawyers who will take cases regarding prisoners whose rights are being denied; these lawyers will speak to the media to generate public support for their clients and will refuse to cooperate with the security agencies.”
“The second kind are public defenders who represent people who cannot afford legal counsel. Some of them do their job responsibly, but others do not,” added the lawyer. “There’s a third group of so-called ‘telephone lawyers’ who have the approval of the judiciary and then there are some lawyers who closely cooperate with security officials.”
In other words, without independent counsel, itself an obligatory due process right, a fair trial is rendered impossible; public defenders either lack the experience in the defense of human rights (especially in cases of this magnitude), or are themselves in cahoots with Iran’s security agencies, and the state-appointed attorneys in Iran designated for so-called “national security” cases uniformly do the bidding of the security agencies.
Mehdi Davoudzadeh, a senior member of the Iranian Bar Association, said in an interview on January 2 that prisoners charged in connection with recent protests were being appointed lawyers that are linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Basij paramilitary force.
“The pre-approved lawyers are usually from religious families who are loyal to the Islamic Republic,” explained the lawyer in Iran, who was interviewed by CHRI on the condition of anonymity.
“They are closely managed by the security agencies and are recommended to families of prisoners on trial in the [Islamic] Revolutionary Court, usually presided by Judge Abolqasem Salavati or Judge Asef Al-Hosseini,” said the lawyer.
“The supreme leader personally went to the Basij barracks to pay his respects to the militia and thank them because he and the ruling establishment owe their survival to them,” added the lawyer.
CHRI emphasizes that even in cases where a court-appointed lawyer does attempt to seek justice, her or his attempts are severely hindered by the speed at which the defendants are sentenced; lawyers are frequently given hours or even minutes to review extensive case files (or denied access to the files to begin with), and are thus simply denied adequate time to prepare a defense.
For example, the Islamic Revolutionary Court that sentenced Mohammad Mehdi Karami, 22, to death did so in just one week, and the entire judicial process, from the time of his arrest to the time of his hanging on January 7, 2023, was just two months.
The father of Karami had said in an interview on December 12, 2022, that “I’ve been calling the lawyer who has been appointed by the judiciary, but he hasn’t answered. This lawyer hasn’t even given me his office address.”
The journalist who interviewed Karami’s parents, Mehdi Beyk, was later arrested for doing his job.
Human rights lawyer Mohammad Hossein Aghasi meanwhile had tweeted that the Karami family had asked him to take on the case but the court refused to allow him to represent Karami.
Ali Sharifzadeh Ardakani, another lawyer who was blocked from representing a street protester who was hanged on January 7, 2023—Seyed Mohammad Hosseini, 39—has meanwhile been charged for saying that Hosseini had been tortured in state custody.
Denied Due Process by Law and Practice
The Note to Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Procedure Regulations, which allows courts to force defendants to use court-approved lawyers, is an egregious violation of due process and of international law.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Iran is a signatory to, recognizes in Article 14, subsection (3)(d), the right of an accused in criminal proceedings to be represented by legal counsel of his or her choice. Iran’s Constitution also 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 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, which was legalized in 2015 when Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani was judiciary chief, despite major pushback from the legal community in Iran, blocks that right, “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.”
The Note to Article 48 also allows state security agents to block a detainees’ access to a lawyer for up to a week in cases involving activists and dissidents who have been accused of criticizing state policies, which the government has deemed “a crime against the country’s domestic and foreign security.”
On January 7, 2023, the Islamic Republic executed two men who had been arrested in connection with the protests and accused of engaging in a mob killing of a Basij paramilitary member.
The hanged protesters, Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Seyed Mohammad Hosseini, were subjected to brutal interrogations during which they were forced to make self-incriminating statements that were then used in the place of evidence in their prosecution.
Like two other street protesters who were hanged in December, they were also denied a public trial, lawyers of their choice, and adequate time to prepare a proper defense.
“These men were not executed after a judicial process, they were lynched,” said Ghaemi.
The UN human rights chief recently issued a statement, saying, “Criminal proceedings and the death penalty are being weaponized by the Iranian Government to punish individuals participating in protests and to strike fear into the population so as to stamp out dissent,” adding that this “amounts to state sanctioned killing.”
And on November 24, 2022, UN Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman sharply criticized the judicial process in Iran, notably “grossly unfair summary trials conducted behind closed doors by Islamic Revolutionary courts.”
“These courts, which are issuing most of the death sentences, have been used for decades to sentence political activists, journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders on the basis of forced confessions extracted through torture and other forms of ill treatment,” he added.
Formerly imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who remains in Iran, had called the latest executions a “clear violation” of the law.
“I offer my condolences to ourselves for having such incompetent rulers who murder [people] to take revenge from the nation’s protest,” said Sotoudeh on January 8.
Following is a list of lawyers who are currently in prison or awaiting trial, according to research by CHRI.
All of these lawyers have been rounded up since September 2022, when major anti-state protests broke out across the country. Since that time, at least 29,400 people have been arrested, according to state figures, and the Human Rights Activists News Agency reports that at least 519 street protesters have been killed, including at least 70 children.
Lawyers currently in detention:
- Mohammad Reza Faghihi
- Amir Adel Ahmadian
- Ahmadali Barani
- Mohammad Rezaei
- Firoozeh (Zahra) Khordehchi
- Mostafa Nili
- Saeid Ataie Kachuie
- Arash Keykhosravi
- Zahra Nazari Gomishani
- Oveis Hamed Tavakkoli
- Ghahreman Karimi
- Saeideh Mirghorbani
- Farzaneh Akbarian
- Reza Hamzehie
- Maryam Arvin
- Hadi Razavi
- Amir Dehghani
- Elham Zera’at
Lawyers Released on Bail Though Potentially Still Facing Charges:
- Milad Panahipour
- Saeid Jalalian
- Babak Paknia
- Rosa Etemad Ansari
- Mohammad Reza Faghihi
- Saeid Sheikh
- Mohammad Rezaei
- Sina Yousefi
- Qassem Bodi Bonab
- Amir Mehdipour
- Ruhollah Mohammad Rezaei
- Nazanin Salari
- Mahmoud Taravat
- Bahar Sahraeian
- Astarh (Maryam) Ansari
- Ghodsieh Ghodsbin
- Negin Kiani
- Alireza Zare
- Mohammad Hadi Jafarpour
- Mehdi Sefri
- Amir Afshar Najafi
- Hossein Jalilian
- Mina Bozorgi
- Mohammadali Kamfirouzi
- Maryam Sadrnia
- Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi
- Hassan Younessi
*Editor’s Note: This article was revised on January 10, 2022, to update the numbers of street protesters sentenced to death in Iran.
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