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Want to Choose Your Lawyer? Good Luck in Iran

Only 20 Lawyers to Defend People Accused of Political, Security Crimes in Tehran

Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012. © 2012 Reuters

Iran’s judiciary reportedly created a very short list of lawyers approved to represent people accused of national security crimes – commonly used to prosecute activists – in Tehran’s courts during the investigative stage of the case. Of the 20,000-plus members of Tehran’s Bar association, only 20 lawyers made the list, which, unsurprisingly, excluded women and human rights lawyers.

Tehran lawyer Amir Raeesian on Saturday tweeted that authorities told him and his colleagues that if their name is not on the list, they cannot represent anyone charged with political or security crimes. His name is not on the list.

Iran’s 2014 criminal procedure law originally sought to expand detainees’ rights, including access to a lawyer. Yet an altered version of the law that went into force requires those charged with various offenses, including “national or international security crimes, political and media crimes,” select their counsel from a judiciary-approved pool of lawyers during the investigation.

Yet no list was approved over the past four years. During this time, Human Rights Watch documented a consistent pattern of prosecutors refusing to allow such detainees’ access to lawyer during the investigative phase. Additionally, revolutionary court judges occasionally refused to accept detainees’ lawyers of choice during the trial.

This is just one more example of Iran’s judiciary trampling over due process. Iran has consistently failed to prevent torture in detention and to investigate allegations of such abuse – even several deaths in detention. Revolutionary courts use confessions obtained under torture as evidence. In February, the family of Kavous Seyed Emami, a prominent environmentalist and a university professor who had been arrested, wrote on social media that authorities told them Seyed Emami had “committed suicide” in detention. No independent investigation has been conducted into his death.

International law guarantees anyone accused of a crime access to a lawyer of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings, including during the investigation, the pretrial proceedings, and during the trial itself. Announcing a list of approved lawyers based on non-transparent criteria is just the latest example of judiciary’s interference with detainees’ rights.

The right to access a lawyer of your choosing is one of the most important safeguards against abuses in detention. Yet like other rights, Iran’s judiciary is busy eroding laws designed to protect Iranian citizens.

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