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(New York) -- Amnesty International warned today that a nine-year jail term for a prominent human rights lawyer is another “nail in the coffin” for freedom of expression and association in Iran and should be overturned immediately.
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, who is a co-founder of Iran’s Center for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), was sentenced in July 2011 after being convicted of charges including “membership of an association [the CHRD] seeking the soft overthrow of the government” and “spreading propaganda against the system through interviews with foreign media.”
He is due to report to authorities on Saturday to begin serving his sentence.
“Mohammad Ali Dadkhah’s only crime is to have defended the rights of others. He should not even have been on trial in the first place and his sentence should be overturned immediately,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Sending him to prison would further curtail freedom of expression and association in Iran, where spurious vague charges are frequently used in an attempt to silence those working to protect human rights.”
Ali Dadkhah has represented many prominent clients such as prisoner of conscience Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, facing a possible death sentence for alleged “apostasy from Islam” and Ebrahim Yazdi, the 80-year-old former leader of the banned Freedom Movement, who suffers from cancer and was recently summoned to begin serving an eight-year prison term.
While in court planning to represent a client, Ali Dadkhah was informed by a judge on April 28 that an appeals court had upheld both his nine-year sentence and a ten-year ban on legal practice and teaching. He had received no prior notification of the appeal court ruling and was prevented from appearing for his client.
The CHRD, which was led by Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, was forcibly closed by the Iranian authorities in December 2008. Its members have continued to carry out their work in support of human rights but have faced repeated harassment, intimidation, arrest and imprisonment. Several are currently serving prison sentences in Tehran’s Evin Prison.
Executive Chairperson of the CHRD Narges Mohammadi was sent to Evin Prison last month. She is currently serving a six-year sentence for “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system”.
Abdolfattah Soltani, a prominent lawyer and co-founder of the CHRD who has been held in Evin Prison since his September 2011 arrest, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for “spreading propaganda against the system”, “forming an illegal opposition group [the CHRD]” and “gathering and colluding with intent to harm national security”.
Another founding member of the CHRD and lawyer, Mohammad Seyfzadeh is currently serving a two-year sentence on charges of “forming and being a member of an association [CHRD]…whose aim is to harm national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system”.
Amnesty International considers them all to be prisoners of conscience imprisoned for their peaceful expression of conscientiously held beliefs.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.