A group of 45 Iranian lawyers and law professors has published an open letter objecting to the deprivation of fundamental rights for defendants amid a deadly government crackdown following months of unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for how she was wearing a head scarf.
Signed by Mohsen Borhani, Houshang Pourbabaei, Soheila Rajabpour, Farideh Gheirat, Javad Kashani, and Ali Mojtahedzadeh, the letter, addressed to the country’s judiciary and published on January 18, emphasizes that the right to freely choose a lawyer — which many of the thousands detained during the unrest have complained about — is recognized by the constitution and failing to honor such basic rights in security and political cases presents “a legal dilemma and challenge.”
Iran has been rocked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in unrest marked by unprecedented shows of defiance by women and schoolgirls in what appears to be the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
The brutal government crackdown on public demonstrators and dissent has seen several thousand people arrested and most of them forced to use lawyers from a list approved by Iran’s judiciary chief. The lawyers on the list are court-approved and have either collaborated with the state security establishment or do not have the resources to defend their clients, according to the Center for Human Rights In Iran (CHRI).
More than 500 people have been killed in the crackdown, according to rights groups. Several thousand more have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.
Some lawmakers have demanded a harsh response to the unrest, saying heavy penalties, including death sentences, are warranted for protesters.
CHRI said on January 10 that at least 44 lawyers had been arrested since September to block their ability to seek justice for arbitrarily arrested activists and protesters. Eighteen remain in detention, and the rest have been released on bail but potentially will still face charges, CHRI said in a news release.