American Hikers’ Lawyer Threatened, Interrogated, Denied Permission to Leave Iran
During his interrogation sessions, Shafiee told the Campaign, he observed the Intelligence Ministry forces adding external, unrelated issues to his case in an attempt to soil his reputation and complicate his case.
Updated on August 2, 2012
Massoud Shafiee, the lawyer who represented the three Americans who were released after more than a year in an Iranian prison, said in an exclusive interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that since his clients left Iran he has been repeatedly interrogated and has faced new limitations for taking on political cases. He also alleged that intelligence organizations are listening to all his conversations, “even what is happening in [his] bedroom.”
Shortly after his clients’ departure from Iran, Shafiee planned to take a trip abroad to visit his children. After receiving the exit stamp in his passport, plainclothes Intelligence Ministry forces kept him from taking his flight, took him out of the airport, and confiscated his passport. He recounted his subsequent interrogation, which included threats against his freedom, to the Campaign.
Shafiee has represented several highly visible political prisoners in Iran, including brothers Kamiar and Arash Alaei; Kian Tajbakhsh; the three American hikers Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, and Josh Fattal; and several union activists such as Reza Shahabi and Rassoul Bodaghi.
During his interrogation sessions, Shafiee told the Campaign, he observed Intelligence Ministry forces adding external, unrelated issues to his case in an attempt to soil his reputation and complicate his case.
He has not filed a grievance about the tapping of his phone, but that he has informed the Intelligence Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office. “They tell me what my email and Facebook passwords are, to show that they know everything,” he told the Campaign. Shafiee said that when the Intelligence forces went to his home, they told his son, “Your father released the Americans, now he has to go there [prison] himself.”
Asked about whether he has received any support from the Iranian Bar Association, Shafiee said, “The Bar Association claims to be independent. Is it there to renew memberships once a year, or to hold its annual celebration of its independence? The Bar Association has let go of us like orphan children on the street, where everyone abuses us and there is no one to respond. What are the responsibilities of the Bar Association? I have submitted photocopies of all my correspondence with the Prosecutor’s Office to the Bar Association.”
“There is no reason why all political-security cases are reviewed by only two or three judges,” he added. “There is no shortage of judges. More than 90% of our judges are healthy, good, and independent judges. Why don’t these judges interfere?”
Shafiee told the Campaign that he remains unable to travel abroad. “My passport has an exit stamp on it and anything could happen to me. I asked them to inform me of my charges. At least the lives of my imprisoned colleagues are safe now, because an establishment such as the Prisons Organization is responsible for their lives. But I don’t even see that in my own case. When I brought up these concerns, they summoned me and there was a long interrogation. Right now, I am deprived of my most basic rights such as visiting with my family. My sister died abroad and I was unable to attend her funeral. I can’t see my children who live outside of Iran, and they have created personal and professional problems for me,” he said.
Expanding on the professional problems these events have caused for him, Shafiee told the Campaign that his colleagues are afraid of coming to his offices because they have been intimidated by the related organizations. He added that continuing his work is practically impossible with the impediments caused for him by the Judiciary. “With what authorization does Judge Salavati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court summon suspects or families of suspects whose defense I have represented in the past, telling them I cannot continue to represent their cases?”
Shafiee described the initial search and detention: “A few days after my three American clients left Iran, seven or eight individuals from the Intelligence Ministry came to our home and took my personal and professional documents. I asked them to show me a search warrant, which they did. In the warrant it was written that after searching my home, they were to take me with them to Evin Prison. After that they came to my offices and took my computers and the files for the political-security cases I represented. We set off for Evin. Near Evin, one of them said that instead of going to prison we should return to my home. They returned my documents to me that same day. I told them that I was planning a trip in a couple of days, because my sister had passed away and I had to go see my kids abroad. I told them to tell me if I was banned from foreign travel. They said no and they even returned my passport to me.”
“On Sunday, October 2, 2011, I was going to take a flight on Turkish Airlines to go to Chicago. After I received the exit stamp on my passport, indicating that I had left the country, several plainclothes forces from the Intelligence Ministry came toward me, took my passport and gave me a receipt to go to an office affiliated with the President’s Office to follow up [about my passport]…. When I contacted that office they told me that I had a case there and they couldn’t give me my passport, and that I had to go to the courts,” he continued. “Ten months have gone by and I have gone to the Prosecutor’s Office and even to the Prosecutor himself. I have submitted several bills and letters to the Prosecutor, but, unfortunately, none of them have been answered. In my numerous visits to Branch 6 of Evin Prison Court, I was only able to enter once. They told me that time that I had to contact the Intelligence Ministry. Despite knowing that Intelligence forces cannot make any judicial decisions and can only enforce them, I did contact them by phone anyway, but I didn’t receive any good answers,” Shafiee said.
Shafiee told the Campaign that judicial authorities told the family of Iranian-American prisoner Amir Hekmati that they could not choose him as their lawyer. “Mr. Hekmati’s sister told me that the case judge said I cannot accept any cases. What authorization does he have to do such a thing? The representative from the Prosecutor’s Office asks me why I represent Rassoul Bodaghi or Reza Shahabi pro bono? Well, what should I say? I say, how can I charge these financially strapped families? They want to insinuate that I must get paid from somewhere. They tell me that so-and-so who calls me is from the Mujahedin [MEK] Organization media. I am a lawyer. I have to provide general information and news about my clients. Of course, nobody tells me officially not to work, but this is what is actually happening,” he said.
Expanding on his history of representing political defendents, Shafiee told the Campaign, “I represented the case of the Alaei brothers [Arash and Kamiar], and I was able to prove in this case that the US is not ‘an enemy state.’ They are active in service to the country in the field of AIDS research, whether inside Iran or abroad. Or in the case of Kian Tajbakhsh, where at appeals stage they repealed his sentence of 15 years in prison. Or in the case of our Baha’i fellow countrymen. Or in the last case of the three American citizens accused of espionage and illegal entry into Iran. I had read these cases and could not see any reason for such charges. If they were spies, why did they leave? I had a justified defense in the case of the three Americans. Or, if the Alaei brothers, as stipulated in their charges, were cooperating with an enemy state, why did you allow them to leave? I have practically defended what was the truth, and unfortunately, I am paying a price for it. Should I have called the three Americans ‘spies’ in my interviews to be free from these issues?”
Shafiee recalled some of the threats his interrogators made to him. “The interrogator says, ‘Ms. Sotoudeh or Mr. Seifzadeh sat in the same seat you are in right now.’ Or another one of them says, ‘What did they do after all?’ If I did what my colleagues like Nasrin Sotoudeh or Abdolfattah Soltani or Mohammad Seifzadeh did, then I should go to prison like them. And if they did the same things as I did, then why are they in prison? All these individuals have worked so sincerely and now they are in prison. It appears that taking on political cases is an issue and if we are not allowed to take on political or security cases, they should pass a law that we would know about and to refrain from doing it. But presently, what we do is legal. I told the Prosecutor that I defend my clients within the framework of the law and Sharia,” Shafiee added.
This ordeal has left Shafiee with more questions than answers. “My question is, why did my passport have to be confiscated? Why wouldn’t they tell me the reason for it? Why isn’t anyone accountable? Why aren’t the Intelligence Ministry or the Prosecutor’s Office accountable? What authorization does the judge have not to allow cases to come my way? Or in a case where a client has been referred to me, to make the suspect and his family to dismiss me as their lawyer? This violates both my rights and the rights of my client who wishes me to represent his case,” Massoud Shafiee concluded.