Iranian authorities target human rights lawyers, while activists remain in detention

Association

Several activists have been in detention since January 2018 when Iranian authorities cracked down on environmental activism. Many are held in solitary confinement and without access to legal counsel. Among them, Houman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Sam Rajabi, Taher Ghadirian, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, and Morad Tahbaz remain in detention without any charges. Civil Society groups including Human Rights Watch has called for the release of the environmentalists 

One family member said;

“It has been six months since the arrests of our loved ones who are known as some of the best and most respected environmentalists in Iran. These six months have been full of hardship, apprehension and anxiety for them and us. Six months without the liberty to make phone calls or have visitations. In these six months, tens of environmentalists have been detained and eight of them are still without access to lawyers in Ward 2-A of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Intelligence Organization in Evin Prison in small cells with a few other inmates.”

Denying allegations by the intelligence ministry that the environmentalists were spies, the head of the Department of Environment, vice president Isa Kalantari said;

“It has been determined that these individuals were detained without doing anything… the Intelligence Ministry has concluded that there is no evidence that these individuals were spies.”

Partially connected to this, the Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has warned of an increasing crackdown against human rights lawyers in recent months. According to the CHRI seven lawyers have been targeted in 2018. Three have been charged and four others have been barred from retaining clients. Those targeted include Mostafa Tork Hamadani who was charged in July 2018 after criticizing the judiciary for barring him from defending the environmentalists mention earlier in this update.

Another human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh was charged for criticizing the judiciary and for serving as the lawyer for two women who were charged for removing their hijabs in public. Nasrin has been in detention in Tehran’s Evin Prison since 13th June 2018. 

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) reports that during her interrogation, Nasrin was told that the charges against her are “propaganda against the state,” for allegedly being a member of LEGAM, an NGO opposed to the death penalty, and “assembly and collusion against national security.” The charges could incur a five-year prison sentence.

Condemning Nasrin’s arrest and detention, Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at ‎Amnesty International said;

"Nasrin Sotoudeh has dedicated her life to fighting for human rights in Iran. She has won international awards but has also paid a high price for her courage, spending three years in jail. Her arrest today is the latest example of the Iranian authorities’ vindictive attempts to stop her from carrying out her important work as a lawyer"

Amnesty International also condemned the arrest of human rights lawyer Zeynab Taheri who was arrested and detained because of her vocal advocacy in speaking out against the unfair trial of her client Mohammad Salas, who was executed. In a trial that was criticized by human rights groups for being grossly unfair, Salas was sentenced to death after he was found guilty of the murder of three policemen during a protest. The protest, which took place on 9th February 2018, turned violent after security forces resorted to using lethal force against demonstrators. Three police officers, Reza Emami, Mohammad Ali Bayrami and Reza Moradi Alamdar, were left dead after they were run over by a bus in the early evening.

Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at ‎Amnesty International said;

“Zeynab Taheri must be immediately and unconditionally released. Instead of arresting her for her work as a lawyer, the Iranian authorities should be addressing the widely held concerns regarding the unconscionable execution of Mohammad Salas after a grossly unfair trial.”

Peaceful assembly

According to the Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), 120 academics have called upon the authorities to immediately suspend cases against students who were arrested in protests in December 2017 and January 2018. Over 150 students remain in detention and 17 of those have been sentenced.

As previously reported in the CIVICUS Monitor, between December 2017 and January 2018, hundreds of protesters were detained following a government crackdown on protests. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) also reports that, since December 2017, dozens of women have been arrested for removing their hijab during regular protest campaigns under hashtags including #mystealthyfreedom, #whitewedne112sdays, #girlsofenghelabstreet and #mycameraismyweapon.

As the crackdown continues, on 12th July 2018, a protester was killed in a protest, according to news reports and the CHRI. Iman Ahmadi was shot and killed when the police fired into the crowd in a protest against local authorities for disconnected water services. 

Expression

The state-owned Mizan News Agency in Iran has come under fire for statements made against the BBC. The news agency described the BBC as “a propaganda and security organisation...whose staff and local collaborators would soon be punished” Interpreting the statement as a threat and intimidation, the BBC press office in its response statement stated;

“These latest comments … represent a significant escalation of the threats made against named BBC Persian staff. In deliberately inflammatory language, this statement effectively incites violence against our journalists.”

In other unrelated developments, Human Rights Watch reported that Iranian authorities have pressured and threatened families of detained activists to publicly denounce their family members. On 27th July 2018 Iranian state TV's "20:30" program featured an interview with Mina Alinejad, the sister of Iranian activist Masih Alinejad, in which she publicly denounced her sister for her advocacy against Iran's compulsory hijab laws. However, Mina later stated that she had been forced into doing so by the authorities