Defenders of Christians among over 30 lawyers arrested

Defenders of Christians among over 30 lawyers arrested

Left to right: Babak Paknia, Bahar Sahraian, and Mustafa Nili.

More than 30 lawyers, including at least three involved in defending Christian converts, have been arrested in recent weeks in cities across Iran.

The arrests come as thousands of protesters await trial, without recourse to legal advice, and amid calls from more than 200 Iranian MPs for them to be sentenced to death.

Hossein Ahmadiniaz, an Iranian human-rights defender now living in the Netherlands, told Article18 that many of the arrested lawyers are well-known figures, some of whom had offered legal advice to arrested protesters and openly “demanded the establishment of a legal commission to protect the rights of detainees, including the right of access to a lawyer”.

At least four of those arrested also recently signed a joint statement in support of the ongoing protests, which stated that Iran’s judiciary, “which should exist to defend the rights of citizens”, had become a “despotic” and “corrupt” force, which “deals harshly with any opposition, has grieved many families, and trapped noble and freedom-loving people with false ‘security’ charges”.

Mr Ahmadiniaz said: “For 43 years, the regime of the Islamic Republic has always been hostile to and afraid of lawyers and the Bar Association. In these 43 years, hundreds of lawyers have been illegally detained, tortured and imprisoned, or forced to flee from Iran.”

Among those arrested are three who have helped to defend Christian converts in recent years: Bahar Sahraian, Mustafa Nili, and Babak Paknia.

Ms Sahraian has defended clients including Sam Khosravi and Maryam Fallahi, whose adopted daughter, Lydia, was ordered by a court to be removed from their care because they had converted to Christianity and Lydia was considered to have been born a Muslim; and Sara Ahmadi and Homayoun Zhaveh, who are now serving a combined 10 years in Tehran’s Evin Prison, even though Homayoun is 64 years old and suffers from advanced Parkinson’s disease.

In Sam and Maryam’s case, Ms Sahraian managed to obtain two fatwas from Grand Ayatollahs – the most senior Shia Islamic authority in Iran – declaring that, owing to the “critical nature” of the case, poor health of the child and undisputed emotional attachment with her parents, Lydia’s adoption by Christian converts was “permissible”.

She was also one of 120 lawyers to sign an open letter to the head of the judiciary at the time – the now-president, Ebrahim Raisi – calling on him to overturn the decision. (He did not.)

Mustafa Nili, meanwhile, appeared in court in Rasht, northern Iran, just last week to defend three converts already serving five-year prison sentences: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh.

Babak Paknia, a colleague of Mustafa’s, has also helped to offer legal assistance in numerous cases involving Christians, in support of another colleague, Iman Soleimani, who has taken on many such cases and as a result has also faced immense pressure from the authorities.

According to reports, at least six of the arrested lawyers, including Mr Paknia, have been released on bail, but the vast majority remain in detention.

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