Promoting tolerance and justice through knowledge and understanding
Death Penalty

Lawyer of Three Sentenced to Death for November 2019 Protests: In Case Contrary to Criminal Procedure, I Don't Know What's in Case File

Emtedad News and Analysis / Translation by Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
Emtedad News and Analysis
June 25, 2020
Web article

Note: The original title of this piece is "Three of the November 2019 Protestors Sentenced to Death – The Defense Attorney: I Have No Information Regarding the Content of the Case File – This Manner of Adjudication Is in Conflict With the Domestic Rules of Criminal Procedure"

In an interview with Emtedad, Babak Paknia, the attorney for three of defendants of the November 2019 protests who were sentenced to death by the trial court, stated: “I entered the case and introduced myself as the attorney when the case against these three individuals was first opened at the Prosecutor’s Office and the proceedings had gotten under way. I was not, however, allowed to participate in the investigations and the proceedings, and was not able to learn anything about the details of the case.”

He added: “Even though my retainer agreement had been entered in the file, I was not informed of the trial session. In any event, the trial court ruling was issued by Revolutionary Court Branch 15, presided by Judge Salavati, and we eventually appealed that decision. It is normal that any attorney who appeals a court’s decision must read the case file. But we had to submit our appellate brief without any precise knowledge of the content of the case file. This was one of the defects of the proceedings at the trial level.”

Paknia continued: “In any event, we submitted our appeal and transferred the case from Revolutionary Court Branch 15, to the Supreme Court. We were hoping that we would be able to read said file once the case was referred there and a once a Supreme Court Branch was assigned, and that we could submit an amended brief. Unfortunately, however, when we went to the Supreme Court, we realized that the case had not been registered in the “General Secretariat” and had been recorded as a “special” case, and they would not tell us which Branch was considering it.”

He stated: “I went to the Honorable Head of the Supreme Court’s Head Administrator. He promised that we would have access to the file. He later said that that would not be possible. I was told ‘if you want to present your defense, you can write a brief and enter it into the case file’. I objected and said: ‘How is it possible to issue a death sentence for the defendants in a case, and then tell their attorney to submit a brief without reading the case file?!’”

This attorney at law continued: “It was our belief that since we were not able to read the file at the trial stage, that we would be able to do so at the appellate stage, since the appeals stage is the final stage of adjudication and a defendant must have a lawyer who reads his file accurately and attentively. The attorney must see how [and what kind of] confession the interrogator and the Investigating Judge obtained in the investigation stage, on the basis of which such a heavy sentence was handed down.”

Paknia stated: “It must be determined why it is that such a sentence has been issued for three young men, all of whom were born in the 1990’s. I do not wish to dismiss or accept the substance of the case file because I have not seen the file at all. My experience tells me, however, that most of these confessions were not obtained under normal circumstances and cannot constitute a basis for the issuance of a valid ruling. My follow-ups with the Head of the Supreme Court’s Office bore no fruit and our efforts proved futile. And yesterday, we heard that the trial court’s ruling in these three young men’s case had been upheld by the Supreme Court and that the Court had confirmed the original ruling.”

Alluding to the news published regarding the confirmation of the ruling in the case of three of the defendants of the November 2019 events, he said: “I too heard the news from the media. It is very interesting that one of these news pieces had published the report of the confirmation of these individuals’ death sentences quoting “the attorneys in the case”, when neither I, nor any of my colleagues had given any interviews in this regard. I contacted my colleagues to make sure that they had not given [any statements] in that regard. I was the only one who was at least able to enter my legal representation in these three individuals’ case, but my colleagues were not even able to do that. Every time they went to the Supreme Court, they were told ‘the case has not been referred to the Court’.”

Paknia stated: “They were giving wrong information to my colleagues and were telling them that the cases had not been registered at all, when in fact, the cases had indeed been referred to the Court and were actually being considered there. They told me, on the other hand, that the case had been registered but that they could not provide me with the file. In any event, I am not able to confirm whether these three individuals’ death sentence has been upheld or not. I wish they would at least let the attorneys have access to the case so we could provide reliable and documented information about it.”

This attorney at law stated: “The source of this news is not clear: We as the attorneys in the case, did not give any interviews, so it’s not clear [who or] what the sources were for the publication of the news. An attorney can provide effective and appropriate representation only when he can read the indictment and see the evidence. A case file must most definitely be provided to the attorney, and these pretexts that the case “is [national] security-related” or “has special circumstances”, etc., do not exist in the law, nor do legal principles allow the judicial system to adjudicate a case by keeping a case secret and not allow the attorney to have access thereto.”

Paknia said: “I hope that Mr. Raisi, who said from the beginning of his tenure that he would be the torchbearer for change in the judicial system, and has declared on numerous occasions that cases must be adjudicated in a clear and legal fashion, issues an order whereby such case files can be put at the disposal of defense attorneys to read and properly defend their client, because [in doing so], even if a trial court ruling is upheld by the Supreme Court, the possibility of a de novo trial is still there. If we do not have access to the case file, however, we don’t know what to do [and how to proceed].”

This attorney at law stated: “the Supreme Court is the highest adjudicating body in the land. Sometimes we see trial courts not conduct themselves appropriately and easily break the law; this does not happen in the Supreme Court. Naturally, the expectations from the Supreme Court are high, as it is the oldest adjudicating body with the most experienced judges. When the case file is hidden and kept secret from the defense attorney, it will most certainly not be put at our disposal when it is remanded to the Revolutionary Court and the Sentence Implementation Branch either.

In closing, he added: “I only hope that given the rhetoric that is coming out of the Judiciary Branch lately, they give us the authority to have access to the case file. Furthermore, I cannot tell one way or another, what has happened in the case, but regardless, it is a defendant’s obvious right to have a lawyer so that a defense can be mounted within the framework of the law. Unfortunately, this type of investigating and adjudicating a case is incompatible with human rights standards and is also in conflict with domestic rules of criminal procedure. I hope positive things happen and we are able to read the case file.”