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The Judiciary

"Anti-Revolutionaries Shouldn't Have Lawyers": Four Iranian Lawyers Recount Lawlessness in the Judiciary

Musa Barzin, Hossein Ra’eessi, Naghi Mahmudi, Mohammad Nayyeri for BBC Persian / Translation by ABC
Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
October 16, 2015
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An Anti-Revolutionary Defendant Is Not Entitled To An Attorney/By Mussa Barzin, Attorney at law

Lawyers who deal with political cases, face a great many strange and unusual situations. Sometimes, however, some cases are so unusual that they leave an imprint on your mind. One of these situations happened when I was at the city of Ardebil Revolutionary Court. I had gone there in the fall of 2010 to submit my representation document (“power of attorney”) and request an appeal in a political case where the defendant had been sentenced to five years in prison.

It was the first time I was meeting that particular judge. I walked in, papers in hand, in the hope that the Ardebil Revolutionary Court Branch Presiding Judge would issue the necessary order for me to read the case file. As soon as I handed him my power of attorney, he looked at me angrily and said: “Who sent you?” Surprised, I responded: “My client sent me, your honor. Who else is supposed to have sent me? I’m an attorney and I intend to represent my client in this case.” The judge, whose reason for being angry was not clear to me, said in a threatening tone: “You cannot represent him in this case because the defendant is an anti-revolutionary.” Our conversation escalated. He asked: “How much are you getting in attorney’s fees and who sent you?” When he heard the words “human rights” in my response, it was as if he had gotten what he wanted out of me: “So Ms. Shirin Ebadi has sent you, hasn’t she,” and started writing in the margins of my brief. After a bit of back and forth, he finally allowed me to read the case file.

The judge said angrily: “You cannot represent him in this case because the defendant is an anti-revolutionary.”

I took the brief back to submit it to the court clerk. The judge had written on the bottom that “the attorney said in his own words that Ms. Ebadi had sent him and confessed that he is in constant contact with her and other anti-Revolutionary elements outside Iran”, and had ordered his chief clerk to report the matter to the Bar Association and the Information Ministry.

I was surprised by his attitude. I was even more surprised when I started to read my client’s case file. The judge had opened two cases and issued two sentences for a single individual based on a single charge. He had sentenced my client to two years in prison in one ruling, and to three years in the other. I asked the chief clerk what this was all about but he said he had no idea and was confused himself. Furthermore, the defendant had carried out the act that was the subject matter of the charge in another town, and had been arrested in that town, and the Ardebil Revolutionary Court had no jurisdiction to try the case. But there was nothing I could do, I had to submit two separate appeals. I left the court and returned to Tabriz.

I drafted both appellate briefs. Before I could go to Ardebil to submit the appeals, however, a colleague called from Ardebil and said: “The judge told me to tell you that you will be arrested if you set foot here.” I was flabbergasted and did not know what to do. But ultimately, I made my decision and ended up going to the Ardebil Revolutionary Court. I went inside the courtroom. As soon as he saw me, the judge said: “I keep my promises.” He picked up his telephone and called some place and asked me to wait in the clerk’s office. After making me wait for two hours, he angrily and reluctantly issued the order that the appeal be recorded and registered with the court clerk. I went back to the Appeals Court after a month. The Appellate judge was surprised by the rulings that had been issued. Ultimately, the two rulings by the Revolutionary Court were vacated and the case was sent to the court in the town where the crime had been committed [and where the court had proper jurisdiction].

“The judge told me to tell you that you will be arrested if you set foot in the city where the appeals court is.”

 

“We will even be the ones to throw the first stone” / By Hossein Ra’eessi, Attorney at law

It was some time in March 2010. I was supposed to defend a woman at the Kurdistan Province Criminal Court, located in the city of Sanandaj, who had been sentenced to stoning for having had sexual relations outside her marriage. The Hamedan Province Criminal Court had adjudicated the case and issued the stoning sentence, which had later been overturned by a Supreme Court Branch and sent back for a de novo trial at an equivalent court. The Sanandaj Court was that equivalent court.

I was extremely worried that stoning would be the sentence once again. Although it was possible that it would not be carried out, such a sentence would cause the client to be detained for a long time and not know what would ultimately happen. My client’s spouse was a simple laborer and he too was worried about a stoning sentence: Even though he was the one who had brought the original complaint, he had immediately withdrawn the complaint as soon as he had found out that the court would pronounce a ruling of stoning, and had announced that he did not want his spouse to be stoned to death.

The court was getting ready to try the case and I was seeing the five judges for the first time. They were taking their places on the bench. The proceedings finally started and the session progressed with the judges asking different questions and getting their answers, until it was my turn to present my defense. As I was standing before the judges, I asked if I could ask them a question before going into the substance of the defense. The presiding judge, who was a composed, middle-aged man, gave me permission to pose my question. Adopting a tone of uncertainty, and to assess the judges’ thinking, I tried to challenge them by putting them in a predicament and asked: “Assuming a sentence of stoning is issued for Ms. … (I pointed to her), the honorable judges yourselves must be present at the event and throw stones at her, as required by Shari’a as well as the law. Are your honors willing to be present and partake in the stoning?”

A heavy atmosphere came over the proceedings. All five judges looked at each other, and after an expressive pause, the youngest member of the Court, putting up a self-assured front and adopting a posture to make me understand that he was on to me, said: “Of course, if we issue such a ruling, we will be the ones to throw the first stone.”

“Assuming a sentence of stoning is issued, are your honors willing to be present and partake in the stoning?”

 

Free from detention, but banned from exercising his profession / Naghi Mahmudi, Attorney at law

On May 22, 2006, the people’s first demonstrations in protest of a caricature published in Iran newspaper started in the city of Tabriz and quickly spread to other cities n Azerbaijan Province. Mohammad Hassan Hergoli (Hassan Demirchi) was arrested for participating in this demonstration and because a picture of him had been taken in front of Tabriz University. Hassan Demirchi is a well-known and highly respected master of music in Azerbaijan. In addition to issuing an arrest warrant for Mr. Demirchi, the investigating judge in the case also ordered that the music academy known as “Azerbaijan” also be shut down.

“In order to stop me from making repeated requests that he accept bail, the Investigating Judge expedited the issuance of an indictment and referred the case to the Revolutionary Court.”

Tabriz Revolutionary Court, Branch One, was the adjudicating authority for Mr. Demirchi’s case. According to the indictment, the charge brought against Mr. Demirchi was “propaganda against the Islamic Republic through participation in the May 22, 2006, demonstrations”. Before trial, I submitted a brief requesting that the posting of bail be allowed, and, citing the fact that other than the punishment prescribed by Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, the indictment issued by the General and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office did not refer to any other articles asking for additional punishment, I asked that the Azerbaijan Music Academy be re-opened and permitted to continue its activities, since tens of instructors and students had been deprived of their tasks of teaching and learning. The Judge ordered that the brief be registered with the court; he did not, however, give effect to the request for accepting bail and re-opening the music academy, in spite of my repeated attempts.

Then the second obvious judicial violation occurred. The trial convened without the Prosecutor’s Representative, and ended after my client’s defense as well as my written and oral arguments in defense of my client were heard. The ruling that was communicated to my office was simply shocking: One year Ta’zir imprisonment, which was the maximum sentence for the charge of propaganda against the Islamic Republic.

Nevertheless, no other additional punishments, such as deprivation of social rights or prohibition from exercising a particular profession or occupation were issued in the ruling. I therefore submitted another request to said Revolutionary Court Branch asking for the re-opening of the music academy and the continuation of its activities. This time, however, the judge denied my request, stating that the trial had already adjourned. I had no other option but to appeal. Fortunately, the appeal was successful and a Supreme Court branch expedited the proceedings and acquitted Master Demirchi while he had already served six months of the one-year sentence. Mr. Demirchi was therefore released from prison; eight years after that date, however, he is still not allowed to exercise his artistic activities.

 

Five years in prison for a crime he did not commit/Mohammad Nayyeri, Attorney at law

A few years ago, I took on a case in a city in Western Iran which once again proved to me the limited role of the attorney in revolutionary courts, and that lawlessness prevailed in the land. The case dealt with a young man who had initially been suspected of cooperating with groups opposed to the Iranian government and had been severely beaten and tortured during interrogations to get him to confess to membership in one of these organizations. At one point, for instance, they had applied the “jujeh” method (a form of torture) on him and had inflicted multiple blows to his spine and testicles, and had subsequently hanged him by his arms, which had resulted in injury to his tendons, with his hands turning almost black. That was probably why they had stopped the interrogations and had released him on bail. Ultimately, they issued an indictment charging him with arms trafficking, a charge he completely denied and explained that an old hunting rifle had been found at his father’s home after his arrest, and that he had been forced to confess that he had smuggled it into Iran from Iraq.

Since some time had passed from the torture incident, I asked my client to obtain a treatment report from his doctor, especially regarding the injury to his hands. A few days later I made a trip to said city and went to the revolutionary court. Once I had introduced myself to the clerk of the court, I was told that I had to wait. A short while later, he left the room and returned with another person; later, I thought that that person must have been my client’s interrogator. The individual started to give me advice in a threatening tone: “You should not have come all this way from Tehran for no reason; this case doesn’t need a lawyer.” At that very moment, the door to the judge’s chamber opened. I quickly ran toward the door to go in when that man grabbed my coat collar from behind and prevented me from walking in. As I yelled in protest, the judge got up from behind his desk. I said in a loud voice: “What kind of court is this where they insult a lawyer in this way? Who is this person anyway, and what right does he have to treat an attorney like this?” The judge told that man to leave the room and said: “He’s one of our best employees and he made a mistake, and you shouldn’t have entered the chamber without permission. But no matter, let it go.”

“You should not have come all this way from Tehran for no reason; this case doesn’t need a lawyer.”

In any event, I officially stated that I represented my client and requested to read the case file. After reading the file, it became clear to me that there was no evidence against my client other than his confession, and that the charge of arms trafficking had been hastily added to the file at the end [of the investigation phase]. I prepared a short brief to which I attached the treating physician’s letter, and asked that my client be referred to the Medical Examiner’s office. When I presented my brief to the judge for his consideration and issuance of an order based thereupon, he said to me angrily: “How dare you make baseless accusations against our officers, and without any evidence?” When I pointed out the physician’s letter, he said: “This person is not a medical examiner and has no right to give you such a letter.” “He is a specialist and has confirmed the injuries to my client and the treatment that he has gotten,” I said, “and the Medical Examiner will most certainly confirm that. Furthermore, when an attorney at law is treated the way I was treated, you can pretty much tell what the interrogator does in the in the interrogation room with a defenseless defendant.”

He responded: “Your statements constitute slander and dissemination of falsehoods and lies. Furthermore, if you have any claims, you must bring them up at the proceedings.” “It is too late even as we speak, and my client must be seen by the Medical Examiner immediately,” I replied. “Wait outside until I issue my order,” he said. Ultimately, the issuance of the letter referring my client to the Medical Examiner was postponed until the next day because business hours were over, or so was the excuse. I decided to bring a separate case at the Prosecutor’s Office the next day, but at that very moment, the interrogator called my client and his father and threatened them that he would get a very heavy sentence, even the death penalty, if they did not fire me.

“The interrogator called my client and his father and threatened them that he would get a very heavy sentence, even the death penalty, if they did not fire me.”

My client’s father called me that afternoon, with a lump in his throat and sounding very apologetic, said that they no longer wanted me to pursue the case. My words, to the effect that he should not give in to the interrogator’s threats and machinations, that if he did, his son would be convicted when he is innocent, had no effect on him. I later learned that the treating physician had also been threatened and told that he should take his letter back, which he had refused to do. Ultimately my client ended up firing me and denying that he had confessed under torture. After a while, I called my client’s father and learned that his son had been sentenced to five years in prison for a crime he had not committed.