Advocates stress Iran rights defenders subject to “relentless policy of harassment”

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Imprisoned Iranian human rights attorney Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani
Imprisoned Iranian human rights attorney Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani. Image: IHR

(WNN/FIDH) Paris, FRANCE / Geneva, SWITZERLAND: The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has just concluded that the detention of lawyer and founding member of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC) Abdolfattah Soltani is arbitrary, and requested the Iranian Government to release him immediately.

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), had referred the case of Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani to the WGAD in August 2012.

“Abdolfattah Soltani, a distinguished human rights lawyer, was arrested on 10 September 2011. At an 8 January trial at Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court under Judge Pirabbasi, Soltani faced three charges: ‘being awarded the [2009] Nuremberg International Human Rights Award,’ ‘interviewing with media about his clients’ cases,’ and ‘co-founding the Center for Human Rights Defenders,'” says Iranian human rights advocates the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

In 2003, attorney Soltani co-founded the Center for Human Rights Defenders with Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, along with other members of the DHRC.

Working to document human rights in action the United Nations (WGAD) said, “the source [the Observatory] has documented the extensive work that Mr. Soltani has undertaken as a human rights defender” and that “the Government [of Iran] has not contested the prima facie case which supports the conclusion that the detention of Mr. Soltani follows from the exercise of the rights and freedoms and of (…) his work as a human rights defender, and that there are no grounds to justify the restriction of those rights.”.

“The decision of the WGAD is a landmark victory as it recognises that the detention of Abdolfattah Soltani is arbitrary under international law” FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen said today. “Abdolfattah Soltani must be released immediately, and the same holds true for the other DHRC founding members, who are also in jail,” she added.

“This decision is all the more important that human rights defenders in Iran face a relentless policy of harassment, and we fear it will increase ahead of the June 2013 elections,” said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “ It is of vital importance that the Iranian authorities face up to their international obligations and abide by the WGAD decision ”, he concluded.

In June 2012, Mr. Soltani was sentenced to 13 years in prison in “internal exile” in the remote city of Borazjan (southern Bushehr province). This imprisonment in exile is contrary to Iranian law, which provide either for “imprisonment” or for “exile” in another part of the country for the vague “offence” of moharebeh (fighting God).

Mr. Soltani has been subjected to judicial harassment for many years but the harassment increased following the contested June 2009 presidential election. Several other Defender of Human Rights Centre (DHRC) members have also faced harsh repression since the arbitrary closure of the DHRC in December 2008. Ms. Nasrin Soutoudeh, Mr. Mohammad Seifzadeh and Mr. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah are respectively serving prison terms of six, two and nine years.

Beside the Defender of Human Rights Centre members, dozens of human rights defenders are jailed in Iran as a means to prevent their human rights activities.

For more information on Iranian human rights defenders behind bars, see: Iran: List of human rights defenders behind bars and the previous Urgent Interventions issued by the Observatory.

The decision of the WGAD, which is an international monitoring body composed of independent experts, is based on international law and was issued upon examining the case brought by the Observatory on behalf of Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani vs. the Islamic Republic of Iran.