In recent years, Tabatabaei has represented a number of clients held on security-related charges, but this time he has not even been allowed to register his name as the defense attorney on record for his two clients. Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American dual citizen and the head of strategic planning for Crescent Petroleum in the United Arab Emirates, has been in detention since October 2015. On February 22, Mohammad Baquer Namazi, who had traveled from Dubai to Iran to visit his son, was arrested as well.
I talked to Tabatabaei about the two cases.
Do you have any updates on Baquer Namazi’s situation?
Mr. Baquer Zamani had given his wife the power of attorney and she selected me to defend the case. I have visited the prosecutor’s office many times, but officials refuse to answer me. But what they are doing is actually legal because a note appended to Article 48 of the Penal Code states that in cases of crimes against national security, and while the investigation is ongoing, the defendant can only choose an attorney from a list of lawyers approved by the head of the judiciary.
Haven’t you been approved by the head of the judiciary?
No. The head of the judiciary must legally submit the list to the courts at the beginning of the [Iranian calendar] year, but he has not done so. And since the approved list does not exist, security defendants are denied their right to an attorney as stipulated by Article 48. As a result, I am representing Baquer and Siamak Namazi, but I cannot have any contact with them. Officials even refused to put my name on the cases and said that they would only accept lawyers from the list approved by the judiciary chief.
This note was added to the new Islamic Penal Code in 2013. Has it been approved by the Guardian Council?
Yes, the amendments were approved in 2013, though some changes were made afterwards. The law went into effect on March 21, 2015. The list of lawyers approved by the head of the judiciary was to have been submitted at that time, but as of now, the list does not exist.
Have you talked to the chief of the judiciary since then?
I am on the board of directors of the Bar Association and the board met with the head of the judiciary. We put forth our ideas about the list and we argued that if somebody has a license to be a lawyer, then by logic he is approved, because otherwise his license would have been revoked. We recommended that this note be removed, and we believe revoking this amendment to Article 48 must be given priority on the Tenth [new] Parliament’s agenda, so that all defendants can have access to a lawyer during preliminary investigations.
So you have no knowledge about the particulars of the case?
No. As of now I have not read the case file, nor I have been able to register my name as the attorney on record, nor I have had any contact with my clients. Siamak met his mother twice. He was supposed to meet with his father on February 27. That is the reason his father came to Iran — and was then arrested. We had made an appointment for the visit. The assistant prosecutor in charge of security prisoners gave us the appointment. Authorities said that last month Siamak’s mother had visited him, so this month they were going to give his father an appointment. Unfortunately, his father was arrested. So he has not been able to meet either of his parents this month.
You say the authorities said they would give an appointment to the father. So does this mean that they set up a trap for Baquer Namazi so they could arrest him?
I wanted to make an appointment for Siamak’s mother. They themselves said that this time his father should come. But about the arrest of Baquer Namazi, I don’t know whether the decision to arrest him was made before he arrived in Iran or after. Of course, Mr. Namazi frequently visited Iran and then left again. So I don’t think it was a trap because he had traveled to Iran previously and had not experienced any problems.
On her Facebook page, Siamak Namazi’s mother wrote that her husband was in ill health and that she was worried about his condition. Have you made any inquiries about this?
I have discussed this with the prosecutor’s office in charge of security cases and have pursued the matter. They told me that they would deal with the matter with due diligence, but the fact is that we lack any information about his physical condition.
Has Baquer Namazi been able to telephone anybody outside the prison?
He called his wife and talked to her. He said that he was healthy and he was being treated well — but of course the call was made from inside the prison.
You have been the attorney for numerous security-related cases and many people are under the impression that you have a good relationship with the judiciary, and that there is mutual trust between you. Yet you say that you have not been approved. If you haven’t been approved, why have you been able to handle so many security cases?
There are two problems with the security cases. The first is that either there is no lawyer’s fee, or the fee is very small. The second problem is that it is risky. Unfortunately, lawyers are generally cautious and they are not eager to take on risky cases.
Also, I have roots in the system. I was a Homafar [a technical officer at the Iranian Royal Air Force] and I was among those who [on February 8, 1979] appeared before Ayatollah Khomeini and transferred my allegiance to him. So I was part of the system from the beginning. Nobody can claim that he is more Muslim or more revolutionary than I am. I am the one who is in a position to make such a claim against anybody else, whether high ranking or otherwise. I have no moral and financial weakness and I do not ask for a fee for my services. Since the events of 2009 [the disputed presidential election and the unrest that followed], I have accepted more than 400 security cases without receiving a penny. The exceptions to this rule are cases related to espionage, to “war against god” and similar charges, where I accept a minimum fee to prevent undue speculation.
That is why I take on security cases. But I have had problems of my own. I have been jailed and I have had cases brought against me too — one of which is still open. I have been in the court system continuously as a defendant, as an attorney and as a plaintiff.