Say goodbye to due process of law in Iran
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has continued to make promises with respect to promoting citizens’ rights and individual liberties such as freedom of speech, the press and assembly. Nevertheless, the latest developments in Iran’s legal system point to the conclusion that the Islamic Republic’s judiciary is escalating its efforts to deprive people from having any due process of law.
It is worth noting that the following recent changes in the judiciary system appear to apply to both Iranian and non-Iranian citizens detained in Iran.
Iran’s judiciary last month released a list of 20 lawyers who are approved, qualified and designated by the head of the judiciary to represent detainees who are held for charges related to political or national security. According to the new change to the law: “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 head of Iran’s judiciary is directly appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Before Rouhani’s tenure, detainees who were held based on political charges at least had the right to choose their own lawyer. It is important to point out that such a right was still extremely limited because lawyers could face grave danger and pressure from the regime if they undertook the representation of political cases and defended such detainees.
Nevertheless, some lawyers, specifically some female attorneys, were still courageous enough to represent detainees despite the perils that they could encounter. Two of the most notable lawyers who defended dissidents are Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights lawyer, and Nasrin Sotoudeh. Both encountered many difficulties from the authorities. Ebadi’s Nobel Peace Prize was reportedly confiscated by the Iranian authorities in 2009. Norway’s then-Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store pointed out that “this is the first time a Nobel Peace Prize has been confiscated by national authorities.” Ebadi currently resides in London, living in exile thanks to the extreme pressures from the regime that she and her family had to endure.
Sotoudeh was recently arrested in her home in Tehran and was told she would serve five years in Iran’s most notorious place of incarceration: Evin Prison.
It is absurd that a country with a population of 80 million is assigned 20 lawyers to represent citizens who are accused of “national security” or “political” crimes.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The right to have access to one’s chosen lawyer is one of the most basic rights guaranteed by international law. It is absurd that a country with a population of about 80 million is only assigned 20 lawyers by the regime to represent those citizens who are accused of “national security” or “political” crimes. This means that tens of thousands of others who practice law in Tehran are automatically excluded and banned. It also should not be surprising to human rights organizations and defenders that the list of 20 lawyers does not include any women or a known human rights lawyer. One of the lawyers on the list is Abdolreza Mohabbati, who served as the regime’s assistant prosecutor.
The Islamic Republic is even violating its own constitution, which allows detainees to select their own legal representative in all courts of law. Article 35 of the constitution stipulates that: “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 legal counsel.” Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Code of Procedure adds that a defendant can ask for a legal representative the moment they are detained.
Iran’s judiciary and hard-line institutions are attempting to strip people of their right to a fair trial. This way it becomes much easier for the regime’s apparatuses to silence dissidents. For example, hard-line organizations such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the judiciary, the Ministry of Intelligence, the Basij or the secret service can bring “political” or “national security” charges against an individual.
Based on the recent changes, the public is also deprived of access to information pertaining to the case. Then the regime can intimidate, torture, obtain forced confessions, and more easily sentence the defendant to imprisonment or execution. This is a major blow to the legal profession and human rights.
As Sotoudeh articulately and accurately told the Center for Human Rights in Iran: “Just imagine that a suspect has been charged by powerful military and security agencies and he goes in front of a judge in a court in Evin Prison under an intense climate of fear and intimidation and… his only hope is to have an independent and honorable lawyer to defend him. But now, with the implementation of the Note to Article 48, that path has been closed and we have to say goodbye to the legal profession in Iran.”
While president Rouhani continues to promise that he will promote people’s rights, his administration appears totally silent as Iran’s judicial system rapidly erodes the basic human rights of its population, as well as possibly those of non-Iranian citizens detained in Iran.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh