Lawyer Who Exposed Cover Up of Client’s Death in Custody Could Be Imprisoned For Years in Iran
Human rights attorney Mohammad Najafi is facing charges from three different courts and years of imprisonment in Iran for publicly arguing that local police concealed the true cause of death of a young man in their custody.
Najafi was released on bail in the city of Arak on April 17, 2018, nearly three months after he told media outlets that his client, Mohammad Heydari, was killed while he was in police custody after being arrested during Iran’s December 2017 protests.
“We have read the indictment and concluded that Mr. Najafi has committed no crime,” Najafi’s attorney, Arash Keykhosravi, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on April 20. “We don’t know why they have filed such heavy charges against him… But from what we have seen in his file, there is nothing to justify his arrest and detention.”
“Mr. Najafi’s case has been divided into two parts,” he added. “The case involving security and political charges has been sent to the Revolutionary Court in Arak and the general charges such as ‘disturbing public order’ have been sent to the Criminal Court.”
“The Revolutionary Court had set bail at 800 million tomans [$190,000 USD] and the Criminal Court at 200 million tomans [$47,500 USD], which was paid with the help of family and close associates and he was released on Tuesday, April 17,” he said.
Keykhosravi continued: “A court in Robat Karim [Tehran Province] has also summoned him on charges of ‘propaganda against the state.’ But the law states that this case should also be sent to Arak.”
Keykhosravi told CHRI that this charge is related to a speech Najafi gave in Robat Karim in November 2017 on the fifth anniversary of the passing of blogger Sattar Beheshti, who died in Iran’s Evin Prison in 2012.
Najafi was arrested on January 15, 2018, by Intelligence Ministry agents after he revealed that Vahid Heydari, 22, was beaten at the 12th Police Station in Arak before his death in early January.
“I believe that this young man did not take his own life,” Najafi told CHRI on January 8.
“This young man was a protester,” he added. “They arrested him and then they beat and killed him. Now they want to destroy his reputation.”
The authorities claimed that Heydari was a drug addict who committed suicide but Najafi, who had taken on the case pro bono, said the young man was arrested because he was at a protest and that the family had vehemently denied that he was an addict.
“Mr. Najafi was always in good spirits but these three months in prison have had a negative impact on him,” Keykhosravi told CHRI. “I’m saddened that our authorities kept this very capable, young, patriotic lawyer in detention for three months. I hope he gets his spirit back.”
The recent multiple deaths of detainees under highly suspicious circumstances in Iran have raised concerns among human rights groups regarding the fatal ill treatment of people taken into custody in Iran.
In all of the recent cases, the families have been pressured to quickly bury their loved ones and told not to speak publicly about their cases. The authorities have also refused to allow independent autopsies or investigations.
In three of the cases, the deceased have been accused of committing suicide.
Assault on Freedom of Speech in Iran
“Unfortunately, we have a problem because there are no clear boundaries for criticism in Iran and critics are confronted with the intention to incapacitate them,” said Keykhosravi. “They are handed long prison sentences in order to remove them from society. The state needs to raise its tolerance level and those fighting autocracy need to become more patient.”
But Keykhosravi told CHRI he was able to convince the judicial authorities that the ban was illegal.
“A number of us lawyers exerted a lot of pressure and made appearances and filed petitions in the courthouses in Arak and showed them that their action was unlawful,” he said. “No one can stand against justice. Every person has the right to a lawyer — a lawyer of his own choosing.”
Article 35 of Iran’s Constitution sets no limits or conditions on the right to counsel. It 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 counsel.”
Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Procedures Regulations also mentions the right of a detainee 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.”
Najafi has been arrested on several previous occasions since 2009 for his peaceful advocacy of human rights but none of the cases went to trial.
In October 2016, he was arrested and detained for several weeks for wearing a T-Shirt honoring the 2009 Green Movement, which arose out of widespread protests in Iran that year against the contested re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.