IRAN: Advocates speak out as human rights attorney is exiled to remote prison

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Iran human rights attorney Soltani
Iran human rights attorney Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani

(WNN) PARIS/GENEVA: The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has denounced today what they call the “unfair sentence” of Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani to 13 years in prison through exile in prison in the remote city of Borazjan (southern Bushehr province). 

Relatives of Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani, lawyer and co-founder of Iran’s premiere human rights legal group based in Tehran called the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC), a group also co-founded by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, were informed a few days ago that the Appeals Court of Tehran Province has condemned Mr. Soltani to an extreme sentence. The sentence is 13 years in prison in “internal exile” which includes incarceration in a remote prison in Iran in the city of Borazjan, which is approximately 400 km (249 miles) away from Tehran.

Little is known in the global media about the Iranian prison in Borazjan. The building for the prison is thought to have been converted 30 years ago from a citadel that was used as a roadside inn over 250 years ago. Current conditions inside the prison are not known. The nearest airport is approximately 100 km (62 miles) away in Bushehr.

Placed in Evin Prison and then released numerous times for his work to defend minorities in the region, Mr. Soltani has held steady in his legal human rights work to give legal advice and aide to those who often could often not get court representation in Iran. In 2008 Soltani was also part of the defense team after the arrest of seven leaders of Iran’s Baha’i minority religious community, five men and two women, who have been arrested and placed in Evin Prison under what Amnesty International has called a long range program of “State sponsored persecution.”

Mr. Soltani has also been one of the legal defenders for Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, in her absence from Iran, after she left the country.

Subjected to judicial harassment for many years due to his human rights work in defending specific cases, Soltani received increased harassment by the government following the contested June 2009 Iranian presidential election and the public outcry with democracy protests that followed the election.

“My father was told that his sentence would be reduced (further) if he would apologize and speak out against Ms. Ebadi in an open letter or an interview,” said Mr. Soltani’s daughter Maede Soltani recently describing the treatment her father received by government officials. “He declined,” she continued.

“This imprisonment is contrary to Iranian law which does not provide for this type of sentence,” says the joint Observatory formed by the FIDH and OMCT to monitor breaks in the treatment of prisoners under human rights international law.

Iranian laws provide either for ‘imprisonment’ or for ‘exile’ in another part of the country, but not both, explained the Observatory. Exile of Mr. Soltani to Borazjan prison will make family visits extremely difficult, as the prison is 400 km away from the location of his relatives and family.

“The Iranian judiciary is thus de facto also punishing Mr. Soltani’s family,” says the joint release on Wednesday by the Observatory.

During his first case in court, human rights attorney Mr. Soltani was condemned to 18 years imprisonment in exile on charges of “propaganda against the system”, “participation in founding the Human Rights Defenders Centre”, “assembly and collusion against national security.” He was also charged by the court with  “earning illegitimate assets” for receiving monies while he was awarded the Nuremberg City Human Rights prize in 2009.

According to the FIDH/OMCT release and in agreement with the recent statement made by Soltani’s daughter, prior to the issuing of the sentence on the appeal, interrogators of the Ministry of Intelligence had also reportedly attempted to pressure Mr. Soltani into incriminating himself and the DHRC in exchange for leniency, including the cancellation of the sentence of internal exile, which he refused.

Other legal team members working with the DHRC have also faced what has been called by advocates as “an intense criminalization campaign” by the Iranian government since the closure of the DHRC in December 2008. The arrested legal attorneys and advocates connected with the DHRC include Mr. Mohammad Seifzadeh, Ms. Nargess Mohammadi and Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh, who are serving prison sentences of 2, 6 and 6 years respectively, Mr. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, whose 9-year prison sentence was upheld on appeal and Mr. Abdolreza Tajik, who was forced to leave the country to avoid a 6-year prison sentence.

The Observatory believes that the new sentence against Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani merely aims to silence him by preventing him from carrying out his human rights activities, especially in his capacity as a human rights lawyer.

“More generally, it should be seen in the context of the general repression of all human rights activities and intimidation of lawyers who stand up for human rights, as well as all human rights defenders in Iran,” says the FIDH and OMCT working jointly.

“The Observatory urges the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani, put an end to any form of judicial harassment against him and all human rights defenders detained for their human rights activities, and more generally to conform to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights instruments ratified by Iran,” they said in a formal statement made on Wednesday June 13, 2012.

“Soltani should not spend a minute, let alone 18 years, in a prison hundreds of kilometers away, for acts directly related to his exercise of basic human rights,” said Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch last March.“The appeals court should quash this unfair sentence and free him.”


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