Lawyers protest lack of access in Iran

New York, August 14, 2009–In a letter addressed to the head of the Iranian judiciary, four defense lawyers protested that they were not allowed to attend the latest hearing, on August 8, in a mass trial in which more than 100 defendants, including journalists, stand accused of anti-state activities. 

On Tuesday, Mina Jafari, Abdolssamad Khoramshahi, Nassrin Sutodeh, and Muhammad Mustafai sent a letter to the chief of the Iranian judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, protesting  that they had been denied access into the mass hearing where their clients, some of whom are journalists, are being tried, Radio Zamaneh and the Iranian Human Rights Activists News Agency reported. In their letter, the four lawyers said they were denied entry because their clients were already being represented by a public defender. They also voiced disapproval that one of the lawyers was threatened with arrest after trying to gain entrance to the proceedings.

The lack of access is part of a larger concern over how the detainees are being treated. Police chief Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam admitted that detainees had been tortured while in custody. Last weekend, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered the Kahrizak prison southern Tehran shut down after the recent death of two detainees there.

“It is shameful that the Iranian authorities continue to flout Iranian law by denying defendants the right to choose their own legal representatives,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator ‎‎Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “This is especially troublesome since credible reports of prisoner abuse and other violations of due process continue to surface.”

In a separate development, CPJ has learned that freelance journalist Reza Rafie Forushan, who is one of the defendants in the mass hearings, has been in custody since June 26, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Forushan allegedly “gave a history of his cooperation with Time magazine to the court and added that his mission was to attend presidential press conferences with the aim of holding biased interviews with the officials of the Islamic Republic,” IRNA reported.

News Director Howard Chua-Eoan in New York told CPJ that Reza Rafie Forushan “is not, and has never been, affiliated with Time magazine. That said, Time is deeply concerned about the safety and freedom of all journalists worldwide.”

Since post-election unrest erupted, Tehran has maintained that foreign elements are behind the protests and violence. The Supreme Leader called the foreign media “evil” and the authorities have detained journalists and embassy staff working for international groups, and have extracted what are widely considered to be false confessions to support those claims.

“The Iranian authorities seem to be going to great length to construct a foreign media conspiracy that simply doesn’t exist,” said Abdel Dayem.

With the confirmation of Forushan’s arrest, CPJ research shows that Iran is currently holding at least 38 journalists behind bars.