Iran: Lawyers increasingly criminalised for defending imprisoned protestors

Iran is one of the most dangerous countries for lawyers, particularly those who defend imprisoned protestors ©Shutterstock

Iran is among the most dangerous countries for lawyers. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, lawyers have been subjected to harassment and persecutions. In the aftermath of protests following Jina Mahsa Amini’s torture to death on 16 September 2022, the oppression of lawyers, particularly those who defend imprisoned protestors, has further increased. Nearly 60 lawyers have been detained since 2021 and hundreds have lost their license.

Most recently, Saleh Nikbakht, the lawyer of Mahsa Amini’s family has been sentenced to one year in prison for “propaganda activities against the Islamic Republic of Iran” and “cooperation with hostile States”, which are considered crimes. Last Sunday, Khosrow Alikordi, a lawyer advocating the cases of families of protesters, was sentenced to one year in prison, a two-year prohibition on practicing law, carrying out any online activity and travelling. He was also sentenced to two years in exile, which means he will have to spend two years in a remote area at the border with Afghanistan.

The independence of lawyers is heavily restricted by law. There is an almost complete lack of access to legal representation of one’s choice for anyone arrested and charged in connection with protests. Regarding crimes threatening the country’s internal or external security or organised crime, which most protestors are accused of, lawyers can only be selected from a list approved by the head of the judiciary, appointed by the Supreme Leader. In addition, last August, the Iranian Parliament approved a law that attributes the task of issuing lawyers’ licenses to the Ministry of Economy instead of the Bar Association.

Women lawyers in Iran face additional difficulties. They are forced to wear the hijab in court, and some have been prosecuted for refusing to do so. Female lawyers also face particular harassment in the courtroom. There have been several reports of judges who, by law, are only men, making derogatory comments to women lawyers, reminding them of their place in society, which they say is not in the public sphere but at home with their husbands and children.

We urge the Iranian authorities to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release all lawyers who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained and drop all charges against them;
  2. Guarantee that all lawyers can carry out their professional activities in full independence, without intimidation, harassment or undue interference, in particular women lawyers
  3. Ensure access to legal representation of their own choice for all those arrested and detained, including minors and those facing the death penalty;
  4. Ensure that fair trial guarantees are respected in criminal proceedings.
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