Lawyer who helped overturn pastor’s death sentence now in prison with him

Lawyer who helped overturn pastor’s death sentence now in prison with him

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is now in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

A lawyer who helped to save a pastor from death row a decade ago is now imprisoned alongside him.

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah defended Yousef Nadarkhani against a 2010 death sentence for “apostasy”, of which he was eventually acquitted in September 2012.

But even before his client’s acquittal, Mr Dadkhah had himself been sentenced to nine years in prison and a 10-year ban on practising law or teaching at universities – for “propaganda against the regime”.

The lawyer began serving his own sentence the same month his client was released.

Mr Dadkhah was freed on parole the following year, but nine years later, his case has been suddenly reopened, and he is now back in prison, alongside his former client, who is himself serving a new prison sentence for “organising and propagating house-churches” and “promoting Zionist Christianity”.

Mr Dadkhah’s rearrest and transfer to Evin Prison was reported on the private Instagram account of lawyer Iman Pirouzkhah on 20 July, and shared on Twitter by fellow lawyer Mostafa Nili.

‘Apostasy’ in the Islamic Republic

Rev Hossein Soodmand remains the only Christian to have been executed by court order for “apostasy”, though many others have been charged and others still killed extrajudicially.

The “crime” of apostasy has never been codified in Iranian law, but death sentences can still be prescribed under Islamic law (Sharia), which Iran’s penal code allows to take precedence in areas of ambiguity.

However, only once has this verdict been enforced by a court in the Islamic Republic, when Pastor Hossein Soodmand was hanged in 1990.

Another pastor, Mehdi Dibaj, was sentenced to death for his “apostasy” in 1993, but freed in January 1994 after intense international opposition, as happened in Yousef’s case.

Mehdi was killed just five months after his release, while the pastor who helped to free him, Haik Hovsepian, was murdered only three days after securing his friend’s liberty.

Pressure on rights defenders

Amirsalar Davoudi has also faced pressure for taking on “security” cases, including defending another Christian prisoner of conscience, Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh. (Photo: Center for Human Rights in Iran)

The Islamic Republic has long exerted pressure on lawyers who take on “security” cases.

Among the other notable human rights defenders who have been targeted in recent years are Nasrin Sotoudeh, Abdolfattah Soltani, Mohammad Seifzadeh, who also worked on Yousef’s “apostasy” case, and Amirsalar Davoudi, who defended another Christian prisoner of conscience, Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh

In recent months, the pressure on civil and political activists in Iran has intensified, with many arrested and sent to prison.

The courts have also issued heavy sentences against Christians, including two Iranian-Armenians sentenced to 10 years each in prison; arrested a number of women under the pretext of “bad hijab”; and raided the homes of many Baha’is, and arrested them. 

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