In an open letter to His Excellency Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has called for the immediate release of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and for adherence to the international legal instruments that safeguard the independence of legal professionals.
The letter, signed by IBAHRI Co-Chairs Ambassador (ret.) Hans Corell, a former United Nations Legal Counsel and Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, and the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, a former Australian High Court Justice, expresses concern that ‘Ms Sotoudeh has been targeted as a result of her fulfilling her legitimate duties as a legal professional’, and that the arbitrary detention is ‘related to her recent actions and advocacy’.
Ms Sotoudeh has acted as a lawyer in several human rights cases, including unjust imprisonments. She has also represented several women arrested for peacefully protesting the compulsory hijab law, which requires all women to wear a head covering in public. In her most recent advocacy, she publicly expressed her dissatisfaction with the action of the Iranian judiciary to place its own candidates on the board of the Iranian Bar Association, criticising the judiciary-approved list of lawyers, which excludes most lawyers from politically charged cases.
Reports indicate that Ms Sotoudeh was arrested in absentia and that no information was provided to her relating to the alleged offence or official charges. However, during interrogation, she was informed that she had been charged with the offences of ‘propaganda against the state’ and ‘assembly and collusion’.
Recent amendments to Article 48 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure 2015 mandate that Ms Sotoudeh select her defence lawyer from a shortlist of lawyers approved by the head of the judiciary. In the letter, Ambassador Corell and Mr Kirby convey the IBAHRI’s concern over these amendments, which infringe the rights of individuals to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice. They write: ‘it is wrong in principle and contrary to international law for officers of the state to limit so significantly the freedom of an accused person to select a lawyer of their choice. It is fundamentally inconsistent with the requirement of manifest fairness and due process in the legal proceedings.’
The Co-Chairs also draw Ayatollah Khamenei’s attention to the international legal provisions guaranteeing the independence of the legal profession. These include: Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a party, and which protects the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention; ICCPR Article 9(1), which mandates that anyone arrested shall be promptly informed of any charges made against them at the time of arrest; and ICCPR Article 14, which guarantees fair trial rights, including that the person charged with a crime has the ability to communicate with legal assistance of their own choosing.
The letter concludes with a call for the immediate release of Ms Sotoudeh and for her to be afforded the full protection of her due process rights in compliance with domestic and international standards, and that all possible measures be taken to ensure that lawyers in Iran are allowed to carry out their legitimate professional activities without fear of intimidation, harassment or interference in accordance with international human rights standards.
Notes to the Editor
The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world. The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
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