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Society & Culture

Jason Rezaian Attorney At Risk

February 27, 2015
Mehrangiz Kar
5 min read
Masoud Shafiei
Masoud Shafiei

When Masoud Shafiei, the lawyer for jailed US-Iranian journalist Jason Rezaian, gave an account of Revolutionary Court judge Abloghassem Salavati’s repeated attempts to block him, celebrated and prominent Iranian lawyer, author and human rights activist Mehrangiz Kar was moved to tell her own experiences of working as a defence lawyer in Iran. In a series of three articles, Kar outlines the frustration and anger she experienced as a professional, as well as the personal grief she and her husband, the journalist Siamak Pourzand, suffered. 


The Revolutionary Court has gone to great lengths to block lawyer Masoud Shafiei from defending jailed Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. Judge Salavati, well known for his role in prosecuting journalists following the 2009 Green Movement, has repeatedly placed obstacles in his way.

Recently, when Shafiei gave an account of what the Revolutionary Court judge has done to block him, I was reminded of my own experience as a lawyer in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Masoud Shafiei is not the first defense attorney who has had to fight the judicial system to defend a client who trusts him. Neither is Judge Salavati the only judicial authority to have made things difficult for a lawyer. From the first moment that religious seminaries destroyed the foundations of the modern Iranian judicial system, judges like Salavati were brought in, planted in certain courts and instructed to use every trick they knew to undermine the trust between a lawyer and his or her client, and to deny defendants and their families the legal support they needed. Before Iran’s religious powers did this, however, they made sure that the Bar Association was completely gutted, ensuring it was no longer independent, to prevent it from becoming a nuisance and claiming that it had a duty to uphold the professional interests of their members.

When a political prisoner asked me to defend him, I was told by a Revolutionary Court Haj Agha [term for a person in a high judicial position] in no uncertain terms that Revolutionary Court judges make decisions on one Article alone, Article 167, which states that a judge must decide each case on “the basis of codified law.” In the absence of such law, he must deliver his judgment on “the basis of authoritative Islamic sources and authentic fatwa.”

When I pointed out that there were other Articles in the constitution, such as Article 168, which states that “political and press offenses will be tried openly and in the presence of a jury, in courts of justice,” he interrupted me, dismissing me with a laugh that made me feel sick. “You all walk under the banner of Article 168,” he said, “but it isn’t worth a penny.” [Read more about this case.]

When I defended a woman who had been persuaded to run a “house of prostitution,” after she was left penniless following the death of her son, I was told I could not make photocopies of important documents for my client’s case file, even though by law this is permitted. I was given an hour to review my client’s case, and told I could not take notes on the case to court proceedings. “Don’t talk to me about the law. A lawyer’s permit is not the Holy Koran. It can disappear in an instant.” [Read more about this case.]

Everything I found revealed a judicial system that held the law, or even its own claim to sharia law, up to ridicule.

When it came to the case of my husband, Siamak Pourzand, it was devastating. He was arrested in 2001 and, though I chose a legal representative for him, he was forced to accept a lawyer appointed by Judge Zafar-Ghandi, who was presiding over his case. My husband was tortured and interrogated repeatedly. In his case, the attorney was negligent and they took advantage of his negligence. Eventually, after pressure from the international community, my husband was released.

But, gradually, relations between Iran and Europe became strained. Siamak’s name was no longer known; he was no longer a famous prisoner. After four months, authorities arrested him again. When his confession was shown on television, I saw that his public defender, Dabir Daraya-Bari, was sitting next to him. I was shocked. [Read more about Siamak Pourzand's case.]

So placing obstacles in the way of an attorney who might become a problem for violators of the law is not something new. On the contrary, it is as old as the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Republic. Judicial authorities either close 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 his. Perhaps the lawyer knew that nothing good could come out of that 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 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. The one who won’t 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, 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.


To find out more about the cases in this article, read: 

“Only One Article In The Constitution Matters”

“Concubines,” “Prostitutes,” and "The Powerful”

“Nine Years of Living Hell”



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