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July 10, 2015 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Criminal procedure law increases vulnerability of journalists


On the 12th anniversary of photographer Zahra Kazemi’s death in detention, Reporters Without Borders voices concern about Iran’s new code of criminal procedure, which imposes an additional restriction on the rights of prisoners of conscience, including journalists. From now on, they will have to choose their lawyers from an approved list.
Article 48 of the code grants defendants the right to request the presence of a lawyer as soon as they are detained. But exception is made for the categories of defendants listed in article 302 – those charged with theft, drug- or organized crime-related offences or crimes against national and international security... and journalists. The law says that these defendants “may choose a lawyer from the list confirmed by the head of the judicial system.” The code of criminal procedure took effect on 22 June, after being discussed for 12 years. It represents an advance in the rights of defendants in a country that had no code of criminal procedure for 36 years. But, in its present form, article 48 in particular constitutes a flagrant violation of articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights and article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also constitutes a grave violation of article 35 of the Iranian constitution. Several UN special rapporteurs have expressed criticisms and recommendations as regards respect for human rights in Iran, especially prisoner rights. And they have often voiced concern about violations of national and international standards at trials. In its “Final Observation” in June 2013, the UN Human Rights Committee urged the Iranian authorities to “ensure that all the obligations of the Covenant are fully respected under all circumstances and that constitutional provisions are applied in a manner consistent with the provisions of the Covenant.” Deaths in detention Although lawyers may be appointed as soon someone is detained, those who defend journalists and bloggers do not have the right to meet with their clients, see the prosecution case files or even know what they are charged with. And at least 20 lawyers have been prosecuted and imprisoned since June 2009 for defending prisoners of conscience, including journalists and bloggers. They include Mohammad Seifzadeh, who was arrested in April 2011 and was sentenced to nine years in prison (followed by a ten-year ban on practicing his profession), and Abdolfattah Soltani, who was notified in March 2012 that a Tehran revolutionary court had sentenced him to 18 years in prison (followed by a 20-year ban on practicing his profession). Both helped Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi to found and run the Centre for Human Rights Defenders, which was arbitrarily banned in Iran in 2006. The centre’s spokesperson, Narges Mohammadi, who is also a women’s rights activist, was arrested yet again on 5 May and was due to be tried on 6 July but the trial been postponed without a new date being set. According to her family, she has been accused of collaborating with Islamic State for participating in protests by the families of members of Iran’s Sunni minority who have been sentenced to death. Iran’s violations of fundamental rights, including its ban on lawyers immediately seeing detainees and or accessing the prosecution case file, have been responsible for many deaths in detention. The victims include Zahra Kazemi, a photojournalist with dual Iranian and Canadian citizenship who was badly beaten within a few hours of being arrested on 23 June 2003 and died in detention 17 days later, on 10 July 2003. The blogger Sattar Beheshti died on 3 November 2012 while being held by a cyber-police unit known by the initials FTA. Fellow blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi died in suspicious circumstances after being arrested on the orders of former Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, the official who also ordered Kazemi’s arrest. Mortazavi is currently being prosecuted for alleged involvement in several corruption cases. In 2013, a Tehran court sentenced Mortazavi to a derisory five-year ban on working in the judicial system and a 60-dollar fine for his role in the deaths of protesters held in Kahrizak prison after the disputed presidential election in June 2009. Reporters Without Borders has been drawing attention to Mortazavi’s role in crimes against news and information providers for the past 12 years. He should be tried for his part in the deaths of Kazemi and Mirsayafi, the closure of around 100 newspapers, the mistreatment and torture of detainees, and the sentences imposed on hundreds of journalists and bloggers when he was prosecutor. Symbol of impunity Arrested while photographing the families of detainees waiting outside Evin prison in north Tehran in June 2003, Zahra Kazemi was tortured during detention and died 17 days later – 12 years ago today. In a press release on 26 June 2009, Canadian foreign minister Lawrence Cannon said two official investigations had confirmed that it was Mortazavi who ordered Kazemi’s arrest and detention, which resulted in her being “tortured to death.” Mortazavi is also alleged to have forged documents to conceal his role in her death. The Kazemi family’s lawyers have repeatedly condemned the judicial proceedings in Iran as a farce. Their attempts to summon senior judicial officials for questioning were never successful, with the result that key witnesses never testified. Mortazavi was never questioned either, although he was person who ordered Kazemi’s arrest and was present while she was interrogated. “The government of Iran is fully responsible for the death under torture of my mother,” said her son, Stephan Hashemi. “It is also a very clear and proven case of cover-up by the Iranian government.” In October 2014, Canada’s supreme court rejected Hashemi’s request, filed in 2006, for Iranian officials to be tried in Canada for the torture and murder of his mother. The court ruled that the law on state immunity prevented civil actions in Canada for acts of torture that took place in other countries.