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Society & Culture

Free Azarpeik Now: Iran’s Top Lawyers Speak Out

July 30, 2014
Nargess Tavassolian
4 min read
Free Azarpeik Now: Iran’s Top Lawyers Speak Out
Free Azarpeik Now: Iran’s Top Lawyers Speak Out

Free Azarpeik Now: Iran’s Top Lawyers Speak Out


Iran’s most prominent human rights lawyers have spoken out against the continued detention of the journalist Saba Azarpeik, who was arrested on May 28. According to Shirin Ebadi, Musa Barzin Khalifehloo and Hossein Raeesi, Azarpeik's arrest and incarceration are in direct contravention of international and domestic law, as well as in violation of the constitution of the Islamic Republic. The journalist, who writes regularly for reformist newspaper Etemad, should be released immediately.

Azarpeik is beginning her third month in detention without a trial. Her family has not been informed of her location or the charges brought against her, though activists and legal professionals believe she has been accused of spreading propaganda and posing a threat to national security. She has not been given access to a lawyer or adequate medical treatment, despite reports that her health is deteriorating.

Iran's top lawyers have also faced high levels of pressure for their work in human rights and protecting citizens' rights. Ebadi, Khalifehloo and Raeesi all currently live outside Iran, threatened with long prison sentences and violation of their rights. The Iranian government has routinely targeted journalists who report on some of the most senstiive, contentious issues affecting Iran today, but also those who would defend them.

“Undemocratic regimes always suspect journalists and believe them to be their enemies,” says Nobel Peace Laureate and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi.  “The Iranian government has put many reporters in prison. In the past month alone at least four woman journalists have been imprisoned.”

Ebadi, who has lived in exile in the UK since June 2009, says it’s not only journalists that are being targeted; their families face severe pressure. “Security agents often intimidate and threaten the family by telling them that if they reveal information about the case, prison conditions will be harsher for that individual.” These types of threats are illegal under both Iranian and international law.

Ebadi says, given the fact that Saba Azarpeik’s family has for the most part remained silent about her case, it’s reasonable to assume they are facing similar pressures: “There are reports that she has lost a great amount of weight and her physical condition is very bad, but her mother and her relatives keep silent hoping for kindness from security agents. I must say that my 20 years of experience in defending political and ideological prisoners proves that you should not trust their promises.”

Criminal and human rights lawyer Musa Barzin Khalifehloo, well known for his work to protect Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran and for his defence of political prisoners, says that revolutionary courts are simply not authorized to rule on cases where journalists have been accused of false reporting. If Azarpeik is accused of spreading propaganda, he says, “first, the revolutionary court has no jurisdiction and second, the two charges must be presented as one.” Khalifehloo himself was previously sentenced to 27 months in prison for his campaign and legal activities and because he gave interviews to media outlets based outside Iran. He is currently seeking asylum in Turkey. 

“It’s clear that laws have been violated— in the manner of her arrest, during the preliminary inquiry and at her trial. Assuming that adequate evidence exists, the arrest of a known journalist such as Azarpeik must be conducted in an manner appropriate to her dignity. Raiding the workplace of a journalist and arresting her in secret is against Iran’s penal code. The right way was for the judicial authorities to summon her to the court and inform her of her rights. If evidence was enough they should have released her on bail and then have continued with the preliminary inquiry.” 

“The interrogation and the trial of Azarpeik in the Revolutionary Court without her lawyer’s knowledge or presence are flagrant violations of the Iranian penal code", he says. "If Azarpeik has been charged with violating press laws then she must be tried by the press court, open to the public and with a jury.” 

Iranian defense lawyer Hossein Raeesi says Azarpeik's case clearly illustrates how Iran's executive and judiciary branches have freely interpreted the law to fit their agendas. "Executive and judiciary organs cannot change the constitution, suspend it or interpret it in a political or personal way", he says.

“Treating journalists like Saba Azarpeik and other civil rights activists as security cases and charging them with propaganda against the regime without legal justification is a political and unjudicial act and an abuse of law,” says Raeesi. “These charges are political but they are really violations of the Press Code. According to Article 168 of the constitution, all such charges including propaganda against the regime must be tried in a court open to public."

Raeesi, who has handled a number of human rights and capital punishment cases, now lives in Toronto, Canada following pressure from the government in connection with his legal activities.

“It is against national laws and the principles of human rights to subject people like Azarpeik to a situation where interrogations take place in difficult conditions." He also says that Azarpeik has been held in detention for an unwarranted period of time. 

“In my opinion,” he concludes, “she has to be released immediately and unconditionally.”






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