March 4, 2022
The Center for Human Rights in Iran and Netherlands-based NGO Lawyers for Lawyers have issued a joint call for the immediate release of Iranian human rights attorney Mohammad Najafi.
In early January 2018, Najafi was practising law in Arak, Markazi province when a 23-year-old man, Vahid Heydari, died in custody after being arrested for taking part in a street protest. Najafi looked into the case, and told CHRI on January: “They arrested him, then they beat and killed him.”
The lawyer was then arrested himself and sentenced in August 2018 to three years in prison and 74 lashes for “disturbing public order” and “spreading lies”. The sentence was upheld in October 2018 and he was taken to Arak’s Central Prison to serve his term.
Round after round of fresh charges were then brought against Najafi, including “propaganda against the regime”, “disturbing the public mind”, “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “collaboration with enemy states”, because of his critical social media posts and contact with journalists at outlets such as Voice of America, Radio Farda and BBC Persian. For these supposed crimes, he was sentenced to one, 10 and one years in prison respectively in December 2018.
In January 2020, Najafi was sentenced to another two years in prison for “spreading lies” in connection with an open letter he wrote to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on September 8, 2018. The February, he was hit with another six months for a speech he made at a ceremony honoring murdered blogger Sattar Beheshti. In July 2021 he was charged once again with “propaganda against the regime” for calling for a boycott of the 2021 presidential election.
The two organizations have described all the convictions as “unlawful violations of Mr. Najafi’s right to freedom of expression and aimed at curbing his legitimate activities as a lawyer”. Article 16 of the U.N. Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers also requires governments to ensure lawyers are able to perform all their professional functions without intimidation or interference.
In the joint statement, CHRI and Lawyers for Lawyers wrote: “Mr. Najafi is but one of many human rights lawyers who have been harassed, threatened, suspended or banned from work, arrested, and unjustly imprisoned by the authorities in Iran. Indeed, Iranian lawyers have noted there are now few lawyers left in Iran who are able and willing to take on human rights cases.
“The courts in Iran are working hand in hand with intelligence agencies to persecute independent lawyers so that any hopes for defending due process—or basic civil and political liberties in Iran—are extinguished.”