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Plight of Rights Defenders in Iran


Giti Pourfazel (Courtesy International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran)

Giti Pourfazel, a human rights lawyer who defended political prisoners and their families in Iran for a decade, has submitted her resignation due to harassment from authorities.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has reported that Giti Pourfazel, a human rights lawyer who defended political prisoners and their families in Iran for a decade, has submitted her resignation to Iran’s Bar Association and given up her law practice. Ms. Pourfazel told the Campaign she did so because of the constant harassment she received from Iranian authorities.

Among Ms. Pourfazel’s clients were imprisoned Shiite cleric Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi, an advocate for the separation of religion from politics; the family of blogger Sattar Beheshti, who was beaten to death in police custody; and Kurdish-Iranian human rights defender Mohammad Sediq Kaboudvand.

Referring to the persistent threats and pressure she received from Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, Ms. Pourfazel said, “In this society, lawyers who bear witness to injustice and speak the truth get punished.”

The State Department’s most recent report on human rights in Iran adds credence to her statement.

The report notes, for example, the periodic jailing of political activist and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh; the imprisonment of lawyers and others affiliated with the Defenders of Human Rights Center advocacy group, such as Abdolfattah Soltani, who is serving a 13-year sentence for the alleged crime of “colluding and conspiring against national security;” and the nine-year prison term being served by Center founder and human rights attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, purportedly for “plotting a soft revolution,” and “propaganda against the system”.

Those who defend the legal rights of others help safeguard the rule of law and make up a critical component of a nation’s civil society. And, as President Barack Obama has emphasized, a healthy civil society is essential to a nation’s success:

“Civil society is the conscience of our countries. It’s the catalyst of change. It’s why strong nations don’t fear active citizens.”

The United States urges Iran – as it does all countries -- to stop the harassment of lawyers and human rights defenders, release those who are currently in detention for their work, and recognize their crucial role in a healthy and just society.

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