Women’s Rights Campaigners Convicted, Lawyers Under Increased Persecution

Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

(1 September 2010) Authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran are continuing to arrest and jail civil society activists while persecuting and prosecuting independent lawyers, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported today.

“With a majority of Iranian human rights activists and lawyers already imprisoned or forced into exile, their remaining colleagues are systematically being taken down by the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” Aaron Rhodes, a Campaign spokesperson said.

Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, told the Campaign, “The Judiciary’s lack of independence is resulting in persecution of lawyers. If we look at the Judiciary’s approach during the past year, we see that lawyers defending political prisoners have all been targeted,” said Ebadi.

Ebadi noted that prominent lawyers Mohammad Ali Dadkhah and Abdolfattah Soltani have both been imprisoned during the past year and released on large bails, Mohammad Seifzadeh is awaiting his trial, Mohammad Oliaeifar is serving a one year prison sentence, and Shadi Sadr and Mohammad Mostafaie have been forced into exile.

Two members of the One Million Signatures Campaign advocating for gender equality, Fatemeh Masjedi and Maryam Bidgoli, have been sentenced to one year in prison. On 22 August, security forces arbitrarily detained human rights activists Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi and Ali Jamali. Prominent human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, has been summoned and her assets frozen.

In an interview with the Campaign, Sotoudeh said that a new method of persecuting human rights lawyers by the authorities is to make unfounded financial allegations on tax grounds.

“I was referred to the taxation bureau and while there I noticed in addition to my name, they are conducting special investigations into thirty human rights lawyers,” Sotoudeh told the Campaign. She noted that while human rights lawyers take on cases on pro-bono bases, authorities are using bogus tax charges to prosecute them.

Sotoudeh said she believes these developments are aimed at putting an end to any legal defense by the human rights community. “The only institution capable of defending lawyers is the Bar Association, but the authorities are putting it under tremendous pressure and attempting to incorporate it into the Judiciary and take away its independence,” she said.

With the arrests of Ali Jamali and Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi, almost all members of the Central Council of ADVAR, a student alumni organization devoted to human rights and social enhancement, have been arbitrarily imprisoned. ADVAR is a group of young Iranian citizens committed to improving the welfare of the people of Iran, and committed to peaceful methods and nonviolence to promote and protect Iranian citizens’ human rights. The Campaign is aware of no evidence that justifies prosecuting members of this group, and indeed, no such evidence has been presented in trials in which its members have been convicted and sentenced. The arrests and prosecution of ADVAR members have thus been politically motivated and at variance with Iranian and international law.

The Change for Equality website reported that two women’s rights activists and members of the One Million Signatures Campaign, Maryam Bidgoli and Fatemeh Masjedi, were sentenced to prison terms of one year following their conviction on charges of “spreading propaganda against the state, through the collection of signatures for changing discriminatory laws and publication of materials in support of a feminist group (Campaign) which works in opposition to the Regime.” Both women denied the charges in their trial in the Second Branch of the Revolutionary Courts in Qom, explaining that the activities of the One Million Signatures Campaign are not in violation of any Iranian laws. Mina Jafari and Mahnaz Parakand, lawyers representing the women’s human rights defenders, plan to appeal the verdict.

The Campaign expressed its serious concern over the abuse of judicial powers by Iranian authorities to target members of the human rights community and civil society activists.