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The Farda Briefing: Iran Cracks Down On Independent Lawyers Amid Protests

Prominent human rights lawyer Mostafa Nili remains in prison. (file photo)
Prominent human rights lawyer Mostafa Nili remains in prison. (file photo)

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following during the past week and what I'm watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Iran has arrested at least 44 independent lawyers since ongoing antiestablishment protests erupted in September. They include lawyers who have represented protesters arrested in the violent state crackdown on the demonstrations.

Around half of the lawyers have been released on bail, while the rest are still in prison. They include Mohammad Ali Kamifiruzi, who represented jailed journalist Nilufar Hamedi, and prominent human rights lawyer Mostafa Nili, who has also been arrested in the past.

Several attorneys who took part in protests led by lawyers in Tehran and the southern city of Shiraz last month were also arrested, the Sharq daily reported.

Why It Matters: Activists say that by jailing independent lawyers, Iran is denying political detainees the right to a fair trial. Many of those arrested and charged in the ongoing crackdown on the protests have relied on state-appointed lawyers who have reportedly done little to defend them. In some cases, the lawyers have reportedly testified against their clients.

“As the people on the front line of the battle for justice, their arrests have a detrimental impact on the thousands of protesters currently behind bars, some of whom face the death penalty without any experience of the ‘laws’ and complexities of a system of injustice,” the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights NGO said in a recent report.

What's Next: State pressure on lawyers who have taken sensitive political cases is nothing new. In recent years, Tehran has jailed prominent lawyers and human rights advocates, including Nasrin Sotoudeh and Abdolfatah Soltani. Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, meanwhile, was forced into exile. But the current crackdown on lawyers appears to be the most extensive in recent years. At least two lawyers arrested in recent months have been sentenced to prison. More lawyers are likely to be arrested and imprisoned in the weeks ahead.

Stories You Might Have Missed

  • Jadi Mirmirani, considered one of Iran's leading technologists and a defender of digital rights, has said that he has been sentenced to six years in prison for comments he posted on social media. Mirmirani announced his sentence in a video message posted online and said he hopes the ruling will be overturned on appeal. Mirmirani was arrested amid the state crackdown on the antiestablishment protests. He was released on bail on December 14.
  • Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda in an interview on December 22 that an agreement to revive the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is not dead. But Malley said Washington is skeptical that Tehran is "prepared or able" to reach an agreement after it backed away from what he called "a golden opportunity" in September to finalize an accord and then threw its support behind Russia in its war against Ukraine.

What We're Watching

Amnesty International has warned that protester Mohammad Ghobadloo is at risk of imminent execution. The 22-year-old was sentenced to death after what Amnesty International said was a trial where his lawyers were not present. Iran’s Supreme Court on December 24 rejected his appeal and upheld the sentence. Ghobadloo was charged with "attacking police with a car, which resulted in the death of one officer and the injury of five others."

Mohammad Ghobadloo
Mohammad Ghobadloo

Amnesty International has expressed serious concern that Ghobadloo, who is said to suffer from mental problems, was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in custody. His mother pleaded for his life in a video message posted online. Meanwhile, three European politicians who have sponsored Ghobadloo in an attempt to protect him from prosecution have urged Iran to overturn his death sentence.

Why It Matters: Ghobadloo is among 11 protesters who have been sentenced to death in Iran. Two of them have already been publicly executed, in a move that was widely condemned. Amnesty has said that another 15 protesters have been charged with “capital offenses” and are “awaiting or undergoing trials.”

The rights watchdog said the "sham trials” of protesters are “designed to intimidate those participating in the popular uprising that has rocked Iran.”

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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