Iran: State’s “Investigation” of Bar Association Aims to Crush Dissent

Iranian Officials Commit Rights Violations with Impunity While Parliament Votes to Further Persecute Human Rights Defenders

June 28, 2023 – Bolstering a state campaign aimed at crushing dissent, the Iranian Parliament has voted to “investigate” the Iranian Bar Association in a bid to further persecute human rights lawyers who serve as the last remaining lifeline for defendants facing politically motivated charges in the judicial system.

“Iranian officials commit blatant human rights violations with impunity, while mechanisms to scrutinize publicly funded state institutions don’t exist in Iran,” said Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“Meanwhile the Iranian Bar Association, an independent body that does not receive public funding, is being subjected to a bogus ‘investigation’ that also happens to be unlawful,” he added. “This is essentially state-sponsored persecution under the guise of a legal process.”

According to the Iranian Parliament’s internal regulations, the legislative branch can only investigate government bodies or organizations that receive funding from the national budget.

“This assault on justice in Iran should be strongly condemned by bar associations and international human rights organizations around the world, as well as by government and UN officials,” said Ghaemi.

CHRI also urges bar associations to highlight individual cases of imprisoned and detained human rights lawyers, condemn their persecution, especially in international forums such as legal conferences, and call attention to the systematic denial of due process in the Islamic Republic—including in death penalty cases where lives are at stake.

Parliament Grants State Extraordinary Powers Over Legal Profession

A motion titled “The Request to Investigate the Operations of Bar Associations and their Union” was passed in Iran’s parliament by 158 votes in favor, 20 against and 3 abstentions on June 27, 2023.

The investigation will enable the judiciary chief, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, and state security agencies including the Intelligence Ministry and the intelligence organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Crops, to scrutinize bar associations throughout the country as well as their central union in Tehran.

The state security apparatus will also be empowered with “reviewing the legal qualification” of lawyers who are members of the bar, which will enable it to pick and choose which lawyers are allowed to officially work in the country.

Bogus “Investigation” Gives Security Agencies Full Access and Control

According to “The Request to Investigate the Operations of Bar Associations and their Union,” members of Parliament and state security agencies will pursue 10 avenues in their inquiry, including by:

    Assessing how the bar association determines membership, accepts law interns, conducts entrance exams, and carries out trainee assessments;

    Collecting bar association membership lists under the pretense of evaluating the lawyers’ legal competence;

    Examining the association’s budget, the income of the bar association and its associated offices around the country, its union, and how its income is spent;

    Examining how elections are held for the board of directors of the bar associations and the union.

These measures are intended to strip the association of its independence, while enabling the state to control its internal affairs.

Since the death of Mahsa Jina Amini, 22, in Iranian state custody days after she was arrested for her allegedly improper hijab in September 2022, which sparked nationwide protests across the country, at least 44 lawyers have been arbitrarily arrested, some violently, and more than 100 have been summoned to court, according to research by CHRI.

Independent lawyers who have managed to secure representation for detained activists, protesters, dissidents, and journalists during this time have meanwhile been denied access to case files and the ability to meet their clients to prepare a proper defense.

Independence of Bar Association Under Attack for Years in Iran

The Iranian Bar Association is one of the oldest professional institutions in Iran. According to the 1954 Bar Association Independence Law, the association has its own special self-regulating structure. The independence of the Bar Association is thus legally recognized, and its affairs are managed based on self-disciplinary principles and without reliance on public funds.

However, the Iranian government has been working to block access to internationally recognized standards of due process in the judicial system for decades, including by arbitrarily arresting independent lawyers, some of whom have been blocked from working, and/or forced to leave the country.

The government has also been trying to destroy the independence of the Bar Association through other means, including through Article 48 of the Criminal Code of Procedure, which enables courts to force defendants held in cases involving politically motivated charges to choose lawyers from a list approved by the judiciary chief, currently Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, himself a known human rights violator.

“This isn’t an investigation, it’s a blatant attack designed to instill fear and despair among protesters and justice-seekers who rely on independent lawyers in the hope of gaining justice,” said Ghaemi.

“It is a unlawful and transparent attempt to block civil society’s access to due process under the guise of the law,” he added.

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