The Iranian authorities must overturn an 18-year jail term recently handed down to prominent human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani and release him immediately and unconditionally, Amnesty International has urged.
It is not known whether the defendant has been notified of the Tehran Revolutionary Court’s ruling, which his family and lawyer learned about on Sunday.
Arrested on 10 September 2011, the charges against Abdolfattah Soltani include “spreading propaganda against the system”, “setting up an illegal opposition group” and “gathering and colluding with intent to harm national security”.
He also faced charges of “accepting an illegal prize and illegal earnings” relating to his acceptance of the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award in 2009.
Amnesty International has previously recognized the 58-year-old lawyer – a founding member of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders – as a prisoner of conscience, held solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and association, including his work as a defence lawyer and in the Centre.
“As one of Iran’s most prominent and most courageous human rights defenders, there can be little doubt that Abdolfattah Soltani is being persecuted for his legitimate work as a defence lawyer,” said Ann Harrison, interim Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“It is a sad state of affairs when defence lawyers join their clients in prison cells. The Iranian authorities must overturn this sentence and release him immediately and unconditionally.”
Under the court ruling, Abdolfattah Soltani is now banned for 20 years from exercising his profession and is to be transferred from Tehran’s Evin Prison to a prison in the remote city of Borazjan, some 620 miles south-west of the capital which will make it hard for his family to visit him.
His family have told the media he plans to appeal the ruling.
Prior to his trial, Ministry of Intelligence officials had threatened Abdolfattah Soltani with 20 years of imprisonment.
In November 2011, Mohammad Javad Larijani, an Iranian Judiciary official, told a UN press conference that Abdolfattah Soltani was being held on suspicion of “relations with terrorist groups” that had been responsible for killing 10,000 people in Iran.
The lawyer’s family told Amnesty International afterwards that he flatly denies this allegation and hoped to lodge a judicial complaint against Mohammad Larijani over the claim.
Abdolfattah Soltani has been arrested on a number of occasions in the past. In 2005, he spent seven months behind bars, but was eventually acquitted of all charges. He also spent two months in detention in 2009.
In a report released last week, Amnesty International documented a dramatic escalation in the Iranian authorities’ crackdown on freedom of expression in the run up to parliamentary elections, which were held on Sunday.
In recent years, harassment, arrest and imprisonment of human rights defenders, including women’s rights defenders, has intensified and several NGOs have been shut down, including the Centre for Human Rights Defenders.
At least nine other defence lawyers remain behind bars, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, Mohammad Seyfzadeh, Javid Houtan Kiyan and Mostafa Daneshju. Most if not all are recognized as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.
“A rise in harassment and punitive measures for human rights lawyers and others with dissenting points of view in Iran is yet another sign of the country’s overall deteriorating human rights situation,” said Ann Harrison.
“Human rights defenders – including defence lawyers – seek to protect rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly for all. When they are put in prison for their peaceful activities, it sends a chilling message to anyone who wants to speak out against the government.”