Iranian human rights lawyer Mohammad Najafi is facing eight charges for daring to speak up about a client he believes was killed in custody.
Security Agents Create “Climate of Fear” Around Local Prosecutor’s Office
Mohammad Najafi, a human rights lawyer who is facing years in prison in Iran for arguing that his client was killed while in police custody, has been denied access to counsel of his choice based on a controversial clause in the country’s Criminal Procedures Regulations.
“In response to our inquiries regarding Mr. Najafi’s case, we have been told that we are not on the judiciary’s list of authorized lawyers,” attorney Payam Derafshan told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on March 10, 2018.
“The judicial authorities showed me a list of seven lawyers who have been approved to take these cases in Markazi Province,” he added. “Now we are requesting that the Parliament investigate why, out of thousands of licensed lawyers, only seven have received approval?”
Derafshan also told CHRI that security forces have been trying to pressure and intimidate the local prosecutor in the case.
“The security forces were in civilian clothes and it was hard to tell if they were working for the Intelligence Ministry or other security agencies,” he said. “They would stand back so that they would not be noticed but these agents are told to hang around and see what’s going on.”
“They created a climate of fear by circling the [prosecutor’s] office in their cars,” he added. “When we got there, the prosecutor quickly locked his office and left. His assistant was being timid, too.”
Continued Derafshan: “The assistant prosecutor had previously told us that he’s not happy to see Najafi in prison and he would have released him if it was in his power.”
“We believe these judicial authorities should resign rather than become part of an unlawful process,” he added. “Of course, we are hoping that Shazand’s judiciary chief will succeed in his talks with other officials in resolving Mr. Najafi’s case.”
In February 2018, Derafshan told CHRI that he and fellow attorney Arash Keykhosravi were also going to be arrested by the Intelligence Ministry’s office in Shazand, near Arak in Markazi Province, for giving legal counsel to Najafi, “but the [Intelligence] Ministry in Tehran told us they had blocked it.”
Detained For Doing His Job, Denied Access to Counsel
Najafi has been detained in Arak since January 15, 2018. He is facing eight charges for accusing the police of trying to cover up the cause of death of Vahid Heydari, a young man who died in custody after being arrested during protests in the city in late December 2017.
In an interview with CHRI in January 2018, Najafi said that Heydari, 22, was beaten before he died at the 12th Police Station in Arak before his death later that month. The authorities claimed that Heydari was a drug addict who committed suicide.
“I believe that this young man did not take his own life,” Najafi said. “This young man was a protester. They arrested him and then they beat and killed him. Now they want to destroy his reputation.”
Iranian officials have also claimed that two other detainees killed themselves in state custody between January and February 2018. Calls for independent investigations by UN officials and human rights organizations have gone unheeded in Iran.
Najafi has been denied access to counsel of his choice based on the Note to Article 48 of Iran’s Constitution.
In January 2018, the judiciary issued lists to branch offices in several cities of approved lawyers exclusively allowed to represent people accused of national security crimes.
Iran’s Constitution sets no limits or conditions on the right to legal counsel.
Article 35 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 legal counsel.”
According to Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Procedures Regulations, people have the right 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.”
Derafshan said that he and nine other prominent lawyers including Nasrin Sotoudeh and Mohammad Moghimi appeared at the judicial branch in the city of Shazand, near Arak, on March 7 to show their solidarity with Najafi.
We had discussions with the highest judicial official in the province and told him he should treat this case with greater care,” Derafshan told CHRI. “Why is it that drug-related convicts and criminals are able to get out of prison on bail for the [Persian] new year (March 21, 2018) but Mr. Najafi has to stay in prison?”
In addition to Najafi, five civil rights activities were arrested in Shazand on January 15: Ali Bagheri, Kian Sadeghi, Abbas Safari, Gholamreza Ghasemi and Behzad Alibakhshi.
According to Derafshan, all of them remain in detention except for Safari, who was released on bail at an unknown date.