Iran: Immediately Release Imprisoned Human Rights Defenders

Press Release
June 13, 2012

Iran: Immediately Release Imprisoned Human Rights Defenders

Prominent Lawyer and Activist Mistreated in Remote Prison

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) -- Amnesty International today called on Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release a prominent lawyer and founding member of the Center for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), an organization co-founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Abdolfattah Soltani was originally sentenced by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court to 18 years' imprisonment to be served in the remote city of Borazjan, some 620 miles south-west of Tehran, which will make it hard for his family to visit him. Soltani was also banned from practicing law for 20 years.

His lawyer and family were informed of the initial sentence March 4. On June 4, his family was informed that Branch 54 of the Appeal Court of Tehran had reduced his sentence to 13 years’ imprisonment and overturned the ban on practicing law for 20 years; the court confirmed that his imprisonment sentence is to be served in the city of Borazjan.

Arrested on September 10, 2011 on charges including "spreading propaganda against the system," "setting up an illegal opposition group [the CHRD]," and "gathering and colluding with intent to harm national security," Soltani also faced charges of "accepting an illegal prize and illegal earnings" relating to his acceptance of the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award in 2009.

On at least two occasions since his imprisonment, Soltani was pressured to "confess" on camera, including "confessing" that the center had received funding from foreign sources to encourage a "soft revolution" in Iran – which Soltani denies.

Amnesty International also understands that Soltani's wife, Massoumeh Dehghan, has faced intimidation and harassment from the Iranian authorities for advocating on behalf of her husband since his imprisonment, including by interviews to journalists abroad about her husband's case.

Soltani suffers from anemia, for which he takes medication provided to him by his family. On at least one occasion, prison guards reportedly refused to provide Soltani with the required medication his family brought to the prison.

Since the CHRD was forcibly closed in December 2008, Iranian authorities carried out a campaign of prosecution and harsh sentencing against anyone with actual or perceived links to the center. 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 is currently serving a six-year sentence for "gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security" and "spreading propaganda against the system" in Zanjan prison, north-west Iran.

CHRD member and lawyer Mohammad Seyfzadeh is currently serving a two-year prison sentence, reduced on appeal from nine years, for his role in establishing the CHRD. He was arrested in April 2011 for allegedly attempting to leave the country illegally and was held in a detention facility in Oroumieh, north-west Iran, in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance for around two weeks.

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a co-founder of the CHRD, was sentenced in July 2011 to nine years' imprisonment on charges relating to his alleged involvement in seeking the "soft overthrow" of the government and "spreading propaganda against the system". He was also banned from teaching and from his profession as a lawyer for 10 years. Dadkhah is currently at liberty, though he may be called to serve his sentence at any time.

Prominent female human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has represented CHRD co-founder Shirin Ebadi in the past, is currently serving a 6-year jail term, reduced on appeal from 11 years, in Tehran's Evin Prison. Among the charges against her were that she also had links to the CHRD, which she denies. She was also banned from practicing law and from leaving the country for 10 years.

Amnesty International continues to call for Iranian human rights defenders to be allowed to carry out their work without fear of persecution or harassment. Any human rights defender prosecuted in Iran for merely carrying out their peaceful and legitimate human rights work should have their convictions overturned and all individuals detained or imprisoned for such reasons should be released immediately and unconditionally, as they are prisoners of conscience.

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.