The Revolutionary Court has gone to great lengths to block lawyer Masoud Shafiei from defending jailed Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. Recently, when Shafiei gave an account of what Judge Salavati, well known for his role in prosecuting journalists following the 2009 Green Movement, has done to block him, Mehrangiz Kar was reminded of her own experience as a lawyer in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Over a series of three articles, Kar recalls three incidents that summarize her experience of practicing law in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Read articles two and three here.
It would be careless of me to talk about my experience as a professional and not mention the family tragedy brought about by Judge Sarraj and Judge Zafar-Ghandi. They put us through hell for nine years.
In 2001, after I left the country, my husband Siamak Pourzand was abducted and went missing. Only the [hardliner] newspapers Kayhan and Resalat covered the arrest, publishing the details of his interrogations under torture as proof of his crimes.
Helping from far away is more difficult than when you are nearby. Irresponsible newspapers, many of which were not beholden to any rules or standards, continuously trumpeted that my husband and I had received millions of dollars from the United States to topple the regime, and other such nonsense. I contacted a few very courageous lawyers in Iran, but none would agree to be his attorney because of the dangerous environment, much of which had been created by hardliner coverage. I was committed to choosing a lawyer so that perhaps he would not be forced to confess to lies and crimes he did not commit.
Eventually, a Mr. Gholamali Riahi agreed to be his attorney and promised to visit Judge Zafar-Ghandi. I spent an excruciating amount of time phoning his office, but I could not get through. In the meantime, my husband was being tortured. Riahi later wrote in a reformist newspaper that he had delayed visiting Judge Zafar-Ghandi for a month because he was up to his ears in work, busy with other cases for members of the Nationalist-Religious Coalition [an opposition party]. In the end, he visited the judge, but it was too late.
Under pressure from European ambassadors, Siamak was eventually released. When he came out of prison, I asked him why he had refused the attorney I had chosen for him. “One night, they burst into my cell, beat me and told me to write a note, thank my wife and my family, but tell them that I couldn’t accept their chosen attorney and I would rather have the court and the honorable Judge Zafar-Ghandi assign a public defender for me.” He told me that he had had no idea that I had chosen a lawyer for him and was wondering why we had not done so.
“Before I was released, I was taken to the office of Judge Sarraj, the head of Mehrabad Judicial Complex,” Siamak said. “Judge Zafar-Ghandi was sitting there, too. They offered me sweets and said that ‘now that everything has ended happily, write a few lines and withdraw your wife’s complaint to parliament’s Article 90 Commission [responsible for pursuing complaints against all branches of the government]. Then the case will be closed.” Siamak complied. He left the courtroom and went outside, breathing in fresh air.
But gradually, relations between Iran and Europe became strained. Siamak’s name was no longer known; he was no longer a famous prisoner. Other prisoners attracted the world’s attention. And, after four months, authorities arrested him again. When his confession was shown on television, I saw that his public defender, a gentleman by the name of Dabir Daraya-Bari, was sitting next to him. I was shocked.
So, the practice of placing obstacles in the way of an attorney who might become a problem is not new. On the contrary, it is as old as the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Republic. Judicial authorities either slam the door in the attorney’s face or do to him what they have done to the client. In the case of my husband, the attorney was negligent and they took advantage of this. Perhaps the lawyer knew that nothing good could come out of the case and that he would be accused of the same trumped-up charges that Siamak was. When dealing with such cases, the lawyer is left with no room for professional courage. Sometimes, under pressure, the lawyer has to give up — simply because there is no professional safety.
Jason Rezaian will be released, too. The person who will not be freed is his lawyer, the person who has worked hard to defend him. From the authorities’ point of view, in terms of their own security, such a lawyer needs to be eliminated, using any trick, ploy or deceit necessary. Under the Islamic Republic of Iran, pliable lawyers, who are easy to persuade, have the market all to themselves.
The author’s husband, journalist Siamak Pourzand, took his own life while under house arrest in 2011.