Iran’s War on Human Rights Lawyers and the Right to Counsel

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The Iranian regime systematically denies prosecuted human rights activists the right to legal counsel of their choice and persecutes lawyers chosen by such defendants. This behavior is part of Tehran’s comprehensive violations of human rights.

Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has signed, recognizes a right for a person accused of a crime “to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing.” Further, the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran states in Article 35 that “[b]oth parties to a lawsuit have the right in all courts of law to select an attorney, and if they are unable to do so, arrangements must be made to provide them with legal counsel.”

However, the note to Article 48 of the Criminal Procedure Regulations of Iran requires defendants “in cases of crimes against internal or external security”—crimes human rights activists are frequently charged with—to choose their lawyers “from a list approved by the head of the judiciary.” The note also enables the authorities to deny detainees access to legal counsel for as long as a week in certain security cases

Non-approved attorneys chosen by human rights activists are unable to defend their clients in court and, consequently, often advocate for their clients in the court of public opinion. The regime frequently retaliates by arresting and jailing such lawyers—sometimes holding them in solitary confinement and providing poor medical care—prosecuting them on state-security charges and other serious offenses, and sentencing them to years in prison.

The following are profiles of human rights lawyers that the Iranian regime has persecuted for daring to defend unjustly accused clients.