The Iranian parliament (Flickr / CC / Parmida Rahimi)

Amnesty International has called on Iranian lawmakers to “urgently revise” a proposed amendment to the criminal code that would deny detainees facing charges such as “actions against national security” the right to a lawyer.

The proposal, which would also apply to detainees charged with “terrorism” or “financial corruption”, could have significant ramifications for the country’s Christians, many of whom have faced charges relating to alleged actions against national security, leading to jail sentences of up to 15 years.

Amnesty notes that while denial of a lawyer is only permitted for 20 days, the proposal enables undefined “judicial authorities” to extend this indefinitely, “if deemed necessary”.

Amnesty calls the proposal “contemptible” and “a huge backward step” that would “reintroduce the kind of restrictions found under the previous Code of Criminal Procedure of 1999, under which prosecution and judicial authorities could effectively bar detainees’ access to a lawyer for the entire investigation phase in a wide range of criminal cases, including those concerning ‘national security’”.

The current criminal code, which came into force in 2015, decrees that all detainees must be given access to a lawyer, albeit only one chosen from a small pool of lawyers approved by the head of the judiciary. 

When an initiate to reform the code was announced in June 2018, it was hoped that this provision would be scrapped, but the lawmakers have “turned the initiative on its head”, Amnesty says, “by proposing, instead of the annulment of the existing provision, a new flawed provision”.

The proposal was announced by the spokesperson of Iran’s legal and judicial parliamentary commission, Hassan Norouzi, on 6 May and is expected to be voted upon in the coming weeks.

Amnesty’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther, said the “regressive” proposal, if passed by MPs, “would be a crushing blow to Iran’s already deeply defective justice system and could further consolidate patterns of torture and other ill-treatment against detainees to extract forced confessions during interrogations”.

“Iranian lawmakers should focus their attention on introducing legal reforms that would strengthen rather than further undermine the right to a fair trial,” he added. “The Iranian parliament must urgently revise this proposed amendment to bring it into line with Iran’s obligations under international human rights law and guarantee the right of all detainees to access a lawyer of their choice from the time of arrest and at all stages of judicial proceedings, including pre-trial detention, questioning and investigation.”

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