Iranian human rights defender and lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah must be immediately and unconditionally released, Amnesty International said, after he was called to begin a nine-year prison sentence at Tehran’s Evin prison on Saturday.Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, co-founder of Iran’s Centre for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), was sentenced in July last year after being convicted of charges including “membership of an association [the CHRD] seeking the soft overthrow of the government” and “spreading propaganda against the system through interviews with foreign media”.He was also banned from practising law and teaching for 10 years.”Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is the fourth member of the CHRD to have been imprisoned in the last 18 months. He should never have been put on trial for his legitimate human rights activities – the Iranian authorities must overturn his conviction and sentence and release him immediately and unconditionally,” said Ann Harrison, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.” Pending his unconditional release, the authorities must also ensure he is protected from torture or other ill-treatment, that he is provided with all necessary medical care and receives full and unrestricted access to his family and a lawyer of his choice.”Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, who is currently believed to be held in Section 350 of Evin prison, where many other political prisoners are also held, was tortured and otherwise ill-treated during his imprisonment there in 2009 when he was held for 74 days – the majority of it spent in solitary confinement.He has represented many prominent clients, including former prisoner of conscience Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who was acquitted and released from prison in September after facing a possible death sentence for alleged “apostasy from Islam”.He also defended writer Arzhang Davoodi, the 60-year-old has been imprisoned since October 2003 and is facing the new charge of “enmity against God” (moharebeh) as a result of his peaceful political activism from within prison. “Mohammad Ali Dadkhah and other human rights defenders should be encouraged and supported in their lawful and important work instead of being persecuted for their activism,” said Harrison. “The continued harassment and punitive measures levelled against them and others with dissenting points of view are yet another nail in the coffin of Iran’s commitment to upholding its international human rights obligations.“What hope do those arrested in Iran for peacefully expressing their views have that their rights will be respected when so many human rights defenders have been put behind bars or driven from the country for trying to defend others in a similar situation?”BackgroundThe CHRD, which was co-founded and led by Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, was forcibly closed by the Iranian authorities in December 2008.Its members have faced repeated harassment, intimidation, arrest and imprisonment as they have continued their work in supporting human rights.Abdolfattah Soltani, a prominent lawyer and co-founder of the CHRD who has been held in Tehran’s Evin Prison since his September 2011 arrest, is currently serving a 13-year prison sentence.Another lawyer and founding member of the CHRD, Mohammad Seyfzadeh, is currently serving a two-year sentence.Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience imprisoned for their peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association.Narges Mohammadi, the executive chairperson of the CHRD and mother of two young children, began serving a six-year prison sentence in April 2012 and was granted temporary medical leave on 31 July 2012 to obtain medical treatment, including for seizures and temporary loss of vision. The UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, expressed concern in November 2011 “about continuing reports of harassment or intimidation, prohibition and forceful breaking up of demonstrations, and arrests and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders” in Iran. The committee added that “human rights defenders and defence lawyers often serve prison sentences based on vaguely formulated crimes such as ‘mohareb’ (enemy of God) or the spreading of propaganda against the establishment”.It recommended that all human rights defenders (HRDs) detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of assembly and association should be released immediately and unconditionally and that threats, harassment and assault on HRDs should be promptly, effectively and impartially investigated, with the prosecution of perpetrators where appropriate.Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Iranian authorities to end the persecution of HRDs for their peaceful and legitimate work in defending the human rights of others. While many are now in prison, still others have been forced to leave the country for their own safety.
This is an amended version of an earlier story.