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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 13, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 33
Iranian human rights lawyer flees to Norway
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Iranian human rights lawyer flees to Norway

High-profile clients to be executed

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Iranian human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei fled his country this week, eluding government security agents trying to arrest him.

He had been in hiding since July 24, when he was detained and interrogated for three hours by police. When he was released, he returned to his office to find it had been ransacked.

When his wife and brother-in-law arrived at the office, they were arrested.

Mostafaei surfaced in Turkey on August 5, and then reappeared in Norway on August 9, where he asked for asylum.

His brother-in-law has been released, Mostafaei says, but his wife is still in solitary confinement in Evin prison. Their 7-year-old daughter is staying with her grandparents, he says

"I love my country. I loved helping people and I didn't escape because I'm afraid of going to jail. I did it because I have no more belief or respect for Iran's judiciary," Mostafaei told reporters in Oslo.

Mostafaei has a long history of taking on politically sensitive cases pro bono. He has pressed Iran's judiciary to ban stoning, execution of minors, and imprisonment of political dissidents.

He has represented 40 juveniles on death row, he says. Eighteen of those clients have been freed, four have been executed, and the remaining 18 cases are pending.

Mostafaei angered Iranian officials because of his aggressive defense of two high-profile clients - a young man convicted of sodomy and a widow convicted of adultery.

Both were sentenced to death by courts in Tabriz, Iran, and are awaiting execution.

Ebrahim Hamidi, an 18-year-old, has been sentenced to death for a sexual assault on another man.

His accuser has since withdrawn the assault claim in a sworn affidavit, admitting that he lied under pressure from his family.

Two years ago, the alleged victim was caught by Hamidi damaging his father's crops. There had been a history of feuding between their families.

A fistfight ensued, involving Hamidi and some friends. During the fracas, the accuser's pants slipped down 20cm, which he claimed was evidence of a sexual assault.

Two hours later, Hamidi and three friends were arrested on sodomy charges and tortured for three days in a detention centre. Under torture, Hamidi signed a confession.

There is no evidence that Hamidi is Gay or that a sexual assault took place, only the word of one person against another and a confession under torture, both of which were later retracted.

The Supreme Court of Iran has overruled the local court's guilty verdict on two separate occasions, and ordered a re-examination of the case, citing errors in the legal investigation and an "issue of doubt."

Both Supreme Court rulings have been ignored by the judiciary in Tabriz.

According to international Gay activist Peter Tatchell, "Ebrahim's case highlights the flaws and injustices of the Iranian legal system. It is further evidence that innocent people are sentenced on false charges of homosexuality, often after torture."

"To avoid the hangman's noose," Tatchell continued, "Ebrahim's best hope is to persuade the Chief Justice of Iran, Sadeq Larijani, to veto his hanging."

Tatchell gave Larijani's address as follows:

Sadeqh Larijani
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh (Office of the Head of the Judiciary)
Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave., south of Serah-e Jomhouri
Tehran 1316814737, Iran
E-mail: info@dadiran.ir or via the official website: www.dadiran.ir/tabid/75/Default.aspx

In Mostafaei's other high-profile case, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, was convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned to death.

She has already been held in prison for five years and received 99 lashes for an "illicit relationship" that she confessed to at the time of her arrest. Like Ebrahim Hamidi, she later recanted her confession, saying it was extorted from her under duress.

An online petition for Ashtiani's release had more than half a million signatures as of Thursday, with celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Peter Gabriel joining the effort.

Protestors around the world staged demonstrations calling on Iran to release her. Last week, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva offered to grant Ashtiani asylum, an offer the Iranian government rejected.

An Iranian court has cancelled the stoning sentence while upholding the adultery conviction. State-controlled Iranian media said this week that Ashtiani is also guilty of murdering her husband. The punishment for that charge is death by hanging.

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