The Day of the Endangered Lawyer, 2024

30 Jan 24

Lawyers occupy a unique and vital role in society, as guardians and champions of the oppressed and persecuted. The world has recognized this essential function by enshrining certain principles via proclamations of international law. For example, the United Nations has issued its Basic Principles on the Roles of Lawyers (1990) to "assist Member States in their task of ensuring and protecting the proper role of lawyers," and which "should be respected and taken into account by Governments within the framework of their national legislation and practice."

Among the more critical principles are the following:

16. Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.

17. Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.

18. Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions.

A consortium of international human rights organizations, bar associations, and advocacy groups has released its annual report coinciding with the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer, January 24. This year's focus is on Iran.

The report highlights the experiences of individual lawyers, one of whom is Amirsalar Davoudi, a "human rights defender and a member of the Human Rights Commission of the Iranian Bar Association. In his work as a human rights lawyer, Amirsalar Davoudi has represented many detained human rights defenders and political prisoners. He is also the founder and director of a Telegram Channel, "Without Retouching," featuring a variety of critical content about the authorities’ treatment of lawyers in particular and more generally, the human rights situation in Iran."

His story epitomizes the tragic state of lawyer advocacy in Iran:

Amirsalar was arrested on 20 November 2018 by security agents in his law office and on 28 May 2019, he learned that Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran had sentenced him to a total of 30 years’ imprisonment and 111 lashes, on account of six charges including “insulting the Supreme Leader,” “spreading propaganda against the system” and “forming a group with the purpose of disrupting national security” in relation to his human rights work. He was in Evin Prison but transferred to Rajae Shahr Prison on 13 April 2021 without notice. He had spent three days in solitary confinement following his transfer. On 13 June 2021, he was released on bail of 20 billion IRR. His temporary release is followed by the decision of Branch 41 of the Supreme Court to accept his request for retrial, due to irregularities in the legal process of his trial. Consequently, Branch 28 of Tehran’s Revolutionary court has been assigned for the retrial of the human rights defender.  He was sentenced to fourteen years in prison by Branch 36 of Tehran Court of Appeals on 1 December 2021. This includes two years in prison for “insulting the supreme leader two years for “disconcerting public opinion” and ten years for “forming a group to act against national security.” On 26 June 2022, he was once again transferred to prison. He is still in prison.

Then there's the case of Ms. Hodi Amid, a " human rights defender, who had also played a prominent role in educating Iranian women of their rights." She was arrested for organizing workshops in which women are informed of their familial and marital legal rights in Iran.

On 1 September 2018 she was arrested at her house by security forces and spent more than two months in Evin Prison. She was arrested as part of the educational workshops she organized from 2015 until her arrest. She was released on bail, but the trial went on. In October 2020, she and her colleague were charged with and found guilty of “collaborating with the hostile American government against the Islamic Republic of Iran on women and family issues” and “working in line with the project of infiltration by weakening the foundation of the family with the aim of overthrowing [the government].” On 31 October 2020, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced Hoda Amid to eight years in prison, a two year travel ban, a two year membership ban on participating in political parties and groups and activities in cyberspace, media and press, and a two year ban on practicing law. On 2 February 2021, Branch 36 of the Tehran Court of Appeals upheld this verdict.

Pressure campaigns are urged to be directed towards the authorities in Iran and international governmental organizations, in universal recognition of the plight of Iranian lawyers, by bar associations and law societies around the world.