Iranian authorities have responded to the ongoing wave of nationwide protests by arresting thousands of people who peacefully took to the streets to demand more freedoms, in the biggest threat to the clerical regime since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Human rights groups have voiced alarm over the arbitrary arrest, detention and ill treatment of ordinary citizens, students, journalists, civil society members, as well as political, cultural and sports figures who have been rounded up and jailed in the brutal state crackdown.
A number of them have already been tried and handed harsh sentences without being allowed access to a legal representative. Some have been extracted confessions through the use of torture.
Lawyers, who play a vital role in upholding the rule of law and protecting human rights, have also been targeted by a wave of arrests, and at least 13 of them are remanded behind bars.
Hossein Raeesi, a lawyer and professor at Canada’s Carleton University, tells IranWire that these arrests are the last nail in the coffin of Iran’s judicial system and justice.
“When there is a lawyer, the true story comes out. So, the Islamic Republic does not want a judiciary that is independent from the government. It also wants lawyers to be under the thumb of the regime so that it can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants.”
Raeesi points out that the more than 14,000 people who have been arrested in the crackdown by security forces over the past eight weeks have been denied a legal representative.
“There are more than 100,000 lawyers in Iran, but they have not been allowed to represent any of [the detainees]. Seen from this angle, the arrest of lawyers holds special significance.”
An “atmosphere of terror”
Another lawyer, Musa Barzin Khalifelou, says that security and intelligence forces “want to create an atmosphere of terror so that the lawyers would not touch [the cases of those recently detained], talk about them or join the nationwide uprising of the Iranian people.”
The hostile treatment of lawyers is not new in Iran, where Khalifelou says the judiciary’s main task is to protect the country’s rulers, not to uphold justice.
“The Islamic Republic’s policy toward bar associations and the community of lawyers is a continuation of the same policy that this regime adopted from the very first day it took power. One of the first institutions that regime manipulated after the revolution was the Iranian judiciary, and it was followed by the suppression of the lawyers.”
Raeesi says the lawyers are now part of the protest movement. They have participated in peaceful demonstrations in Shiraz and Tehran while bar associations announced they were ready to defend the protesters for free.
These arrests “cannot continue”
“We have received reports that some members of the board of directors of bar associations have tried to appease the government and have not seriously defended the rights of the arrested lawyers,” Raeesi says. “But the people have put these individuals to shame. This cannot continue and this repressive regime has to free these brave lawyers who have a shining record in defending human rights and the rights of children and women.”
“Had these bar associations defended the lawyers, the government would have been unable to keep lawyers in detention on ridiculous charges such as posting a story on Instagram or giving advice to citizens,” he continues.
“The lawyer’s community “has become more active” than before, Khalifelou says.
“In the past, a specific group of our colleagues were more active than others and they were the ones who got arrested, but now the number of lawyers who fight for justice has increased a lot. So, no matter how many lawyers they want to arrest and silence, they are many who will replace them to continue their mission and defend the detainees.”