Law Society and Bar Human Rights Committee hold legal seminar on trial of seven former Baha’i leaders in Iran

Issues of due legal process and access to justice in Iran came under scrutiny at a high-level seminar, on 9 May, organised to mark the fifth anniversary of the arrest of Iran’s seven former Bahá’í leaders.

Held at the Law Society of England and Wales – and co-hosted by theBar Human Rights Committee – the seminar attracted more than 50 practising barristers, solicitors and human rights lawyers.

panel

From left to right: Ms Mahnaz Parakand, defence counsel for the seven Bahá’ís, Ms Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chairwoman of the Bar Human Rights Committee, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, and Dr Nazila Ghanea, Lecturer in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford

The seminar heard how the trial and sentencing of the seven Bahá’ís to 20 years in prison each, was conducted under proceedings that violated international and national Iranian laws. The case can be seen as a major example of wide scale abuses in the Iranian justice system, used as a tool of oppression against religious and ethnic minorities, human rights lawyers, activists and others.

Coinciding with the seminar, a letter signed by 18 prominent UK human rights lawyers was published in the Telegraph newspaper. The trial of the seven, “violated national and international laws as well as shariah norms,” they wrote. Signatories to the letter included Sir Desmond de Silva, Cherie Booth CBE QC, Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven QC, Michael Mansfield QC, and Professor Philippe Sands QC.

Dr Ahmed Shaheed and Dr Nazila Ghanea

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran and Dr Nazila Ghanea, Lecturer in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford

The history of the case of the seven – who formed an ad hoc group that looked after the affairs of Iran’s 300,000-strong Bahá’í community – Iranian human rights lawyer Mahnaz Parakand (left), with Kirsty Brimelow QC, chair of Bar Human Rights Committee was outlined by Mahnaz Parakand, the Iranian lawyer who defended them and herself fled Iran in 2011 fearing execution.

Detailing the blatant disregard of due legal process in their case, Ms. Parakand recounted how, among other procedural violations, the seven prisoners were deprived of any meeting with their legal representatives for the first two and a half years of their incarceration.

Mahnaz Parakand and Kirsty Brimelow QC

Mahnaz Parakand, Iranian human rights lawyer, and Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chairwoman of Bar Human Rights Committee

She also noted how the particular official dealing with them had a dislike for the Bahá’ís. “And this actually meant that the way they were dealt with did not follow correct legal procedures,” she said.

“Having studied their case, it was clear that there was no basis for the allegations that had been brought against them,” Ms. Parakand added.

She further noted how human rights lawyers in Iran are put under extreme pressure – either imprisoned or forced to leave the country. “And those that are as yet untouched are also put under a lot of humiliation and intimidation,” she said. “At present there are 10 lawyers who because of their profession are serving prison sentences.”

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran opened the seminar.

“The Bahá’ís are the most persecuted religious minority in Iran,” he said. As a consequence of three Articles in the Iranian constitution, Bahá’ís are considered “non-persons outside the protection of the law.”

“When we look at the case of the seven Bahá’í leaders, we see the hallmarks of the legal issues faced by the Bahá’ís and other minorities in Iran. They are frequently subject to unfair trials and persecuted.” Dr. Shaheed stressed the importance of documenting cases, highlighting those who abuse human rights, and supporting workers for justice in Iran.

Dr Nazila Ghanea – a lecturer in international human rights law at the University of Oxford – outlined a number of specific violations of due legal process exemplified by the case of the seven. These included the non-independence and partiality of the judiciary; a lack of transparency towards the accused, their lawyers and their families; and the hampering of the efforts of their lawyers who defend them, even by threat of imprisonment.

The seminar – which was chaired by Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chairwoman of the Bar Human Rights Committee and a leading international human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers.

Six of the seven were arrested on 14 May 2008 in a series of early morning raids in Tehran. The seventh had been detained two months earlier on 5 March 2008. The seven are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm.

Today they are enduring harsh conditions in two of Iran’s most notorious prisons. The five men are incarcerated at Gohardasht prison in Karaj, a facility known for its overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and dangerous environment. The two women are held at Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison.

18 prominent human rights lawyers sign letter on legal miscarriage of justice for seven former Bahá’í leaders

18 of the country’s leading human rights jurists have today signed a letter to the editor of the Telegraph on the miscarriage of justice during the trial and sentencing of the seven former leaders of the Bahá’í community in Iran. Tried and convicted in 2008 in proceedings that violated Iranian and international law, they are currently serving 20 year prison sentences for their religious beliefs.

Their letter coincides with a seminar held on 11 May 2013 at the Law Society of England and Wales, co-hosted by the Bar Human Rights Committee, on the trial of the seven.

Published in the Telegraph, 8 May 2013.

SIR – Five years ago this month, seven former leaders of the Bahá’í community in Iran were imprisoned for their beliefs. This violated national and international laws as well as shariah norms.

The seven – Mrs Mahvash Sabet,
Mr Behrouz Tavakkoli, Mr Vahid Tizfahm, Mrs Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr Afif Naeimi and Mr Saeid Rezaie – were arrested following coordinated raids on their homes in 2008. The fatuous nature of their alleged crimes, which included “spreading corruption on earth” and collaboration with the “tyrannical Quds-occupying regime” (Israel), is self-evident.

The charges against them were first heard in the media rather than in court, nine months after their detention. An arrest warrant was issued 10 months after they were arrested. To this day, they have not been presented with formal charges or a judgment in writing, in clear violation of the Iranian constitution.

The seven Bahá’ís were purportedly “tried” in 2010 in proceedings that can be barely described as a “trial”, and were each sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Lawyers brave enough to represent Bahá’ís – including the Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi – have themselves become victims of the Iranian regime and been forced into exile. Others, such as Nasrin Sotoudeh and Abdolfattah Soltani, are now serving prison sentences on similarly spurious allegations.

Iranian authorities often claim to be champions of justice, equality and fairness. It is time for them to honour these principles, release the seven Bahá’í leaders and restore the rule of law in Iran.

Sir Desmond de Silva QC Michael Birnbaum QC Cherie Booth CBE QC Kirsty Brimelow QC Professor John Cooper QC Edward Fitzgerald QC

Dr Nazila Ghanea
Lord Gifford QC
Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC
Lord Macdonald of River Glaven QC Michael Mansfield QC
Professor Rachel Murray
Sir Geoffrey Nice QC
Professor Michael O’Flaherty Professor Javaid Rehman
Geoffrey Robertson QC
Professor Philippe Sands QC Professor Dan Sarooshi