Majidreza Rahnavard during his brief trial on November 30, 2022

Jailed Iranian Protesters Not Allowed To Choose Own Lawyers

Tuesday, 01/03/2023
Maryam Sinaiee

A British Iranian journalist and political analyst and a regular contributor to Iran International

Iran’s Judiciary does not allow protesters and dissidents to choose their own lawyers during trials that could even bear the death sentence for the defendants.

According to Iran's laws, those on trial for crimes against national security can only be represented in court by lawyers that have the “endorsement” of the chief justice himself. Almost all dissidents are accused of acting against national security among other crimes, such as insulting the Supreme Leader or unlawful assembly.

The restriction also applies to protesters who have been charged with "corruption on earth" or "waging war against God'' both of which bear a death sentence. Iran's revolutionary courts have sentenced more than 50 protesters to death on such charges since November.

Two protesters who were hanged in December, Mohsen Shekari and Majidreza Rahnavard, were both deprived of the right to choose their own lawyers. They were represented at their trials by court-appointed lawyers. The two young men, apparently, met their attorneys on the day of their trial at court where the lawyers’ role was limited to keeping up appearances of a fair trial.

Iran’s Judicial system, controlled by the Supreme Leader, oversees both judges and prosecutors, while closely coordinating with security and intelligence entities.

Families of some protesters who are on trial allege that the lawyers representing their loved ones made very little effort to present a proper defense and their only statement in court was what was dictated to them by the judiciary and security agents to ensure a pre-determined outcome. The hanging of the two young men was meant to instill fear among the people and keep them away from the protests, the families and others say.

Mohsen Shekari hanged in December for allegedly using a knife during protests

Mashallah Karami whose son Mohammad-Mehdi Karami has been sentenced to death in Alborz Province for alleged participation in the killing of a member of the Basij militia told Etemad newspaper recently that he tried to contact his son’s court-appointed “endorsed lawyer” for a week, after his sentence was announced, to proceed with appeals but never received a response from him. “The court-appointed lawyer refused to let me have the address of his office to go there and tell him what my son has told me for using it in his defense.”

“It’s a matter of life and death for a young man. Shouldn’t the family of the accused be allowed to have their own attorney?” Karami who says his son has sworn his innocence to him said.

Nemat Ahmadi, lawyer and professor of law, told Arman-e Emruz newspaper in December that some of the “endorsed” lawyers, even when appointed by the court rather than the accused, work for extremely high fees. “We heard recently that one [such] lawyer had demanded $250,000 from the family of the accused,” he said.

Ahmadi also pointed out that one of these lawyers told the judge at a recent trial, when he was asked if he had spoken with his client, that he had met his client who was hospitalized for “half an hour” before the trial.

Just a week ago, defense attorney Amir Raesian announced that authorities had finally accepted him and his colleague Roza Etemad-Ansari to represent jailed dissident Toomaj Salehi and that they would be meeting with Toomaj after reading the case files.

The lawyer’s announcement came amid international pressure on the Islamic Republic to free Toomaj who was arrested in late October. The 32-year-old popular rapper could be facing a death sentence for vague charges based on Islamic law, "corruption on earth" and "waging war against God”, brought against him.

“It’s a first and important milestone,” member of the German Bundestag Ye-One Rhie who recently accepted the rapper’s political sponsorship, tweeted about the new development in the case after the announcement.

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