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Iranian Lawyers Call on Iranian Authorities to Cease Infringements on Independence of Legal Profession in Iran

Press Release by Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

On the occasion of Defense Lawyers’ Day (February 25th) in Iran, a group of 35 Iranian defense and human rights lawyers has published an open letter calling on the authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) to cease infringements on the independence of Iran’s legal profession. In particular, the letter calls for the cancellation of a bill that, in essence, transfers total supervisory control over lawyers to a quasi-judicial body and whose passage is described as “a coup de grace to legal practice in Iran”.

Signatories to the letter include Mohammad Olyaeifard-an Iranian lawyer who served one year in prison in 2010 for reportedly speaking out against the execution of one of his juvenile clients. Other signatories include prominent Iranian criminal defense lawyers like Mehrangiz Kar, Mahnaz Parakand, Shadi Sadr, Mohammad Mostafaei and others who have been forced to flee Iran on account of their representation of clients in matters that the Iranian government finds politically sensitive.

Photo: 61st "Lawyers' Day" gathering in Tehran
photo by Afshin Azizi, ISNA

In recent years, the Iranian parliament, judiciary and executive have imposed increasingly restrictive measures on the Iranian Bar Association and its members through formal measures and in practice that result in infringements on the independence of the profession. The open letter calls attention to one particularly concerning development-the proposal and passage of the “Bill for Formal Attorneyship” which, among other measures, seeks to appoint a supervisory body that will grant control over the issue, suspension and revocation of attorney licenses to the judiciary; grant the judiciary ownership over the Iranian Bar Association’s property and assets; and change the name of the “Bar Association” to the “Organization of Attorneys” so as to imply its subordination to the judiciary.

In light of these concerns, the letter calls on the Iranian judiciary to withdraw the Bill as soon as possible, the Iranian government to refuse the confirmation and submission of the Bill to Parliament and on the members of Parliament, in the event they should receive the Bill, to reject its provisions.

Mohammad Hossein Nayyeri-an Iranian lawyer living in exile and one of the drafters of the letter-says, “The new Bill, if adopted, will leave neither independence nor the Bar Association intact. It would provide a more arbitrary process of selection of lawyers so as to prevent any liberal individual from entering the legal profession in the first place. Then, an unchallengeable authority would be given to a Judiciary-appointed body to revoke the licenses of any lawyer it considers non-conformable. Lawyers that receive their licenses from such organizations are not in a position to stand against violations of human rights. They are not able and willing to defend political opponents or prisoners of conscience without fear of losing their job-therefore they cannot defend the rights of the public against the State. In the eyes of the IRI Judiciary this would be an ideal Bar.”

“As this statement goes to press, Nasrin Sotoudeh-a prominent human rights lawyer, women’s activist and 2012 winner of the Sakharov Prize-continues to languish in an Iranian prison because of her defense of clients in politically sensitive cases,” says Gissou Nia, the Executive Director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, a US-based NGO that has closely followed this issue. “And just last week, lawyer Mohammad Seyfzadeh-who along with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and imprisoned lawyers Mohammad Ali Dadkhah and Abdolfattah Soltani, is a founding member of the Center for Human Rights Defenders-was sentenced to a further six years in prison for ‘acting against national security’ after already spending two years in prison for his membership in the Center for Human Rights Defenders, among other charges. The Iranian judiciary must withdraw this Bill and other measures that threaten the independence of lawyers like Sotoudeh and Seyfzadeh, who are simply trying to do their jobs by providing a defense to whomever requests it-regardless of political affiliation, religion, ethnicity or status in society.”

The letter further calls on the International Bar Association, bar associations in different countries and the global legal community as a whole to take action in support of their Iranian colleagues and in defense of the independence of the legal practice in Iran. It also calls on the United Nations and the international human rights community to remind the IRI of its international obligations regarding the independence of lawyers, the right to a defense and fair trial, and the consequences of passage of the Bill and its violation of international norms and standards.

To learn more about the increasing restrictions on the Iranian Bar Association and Iran’s legal profession click here to read IHRDC’s legal commentary, Iranian Bar Associations: Struggle for Independence

More photos from the 61st "Lawyers' Day" gathering in Tehran

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