Iranian Government Targeting Disability Rights Advocates

Nasser Saragaran

In Separate Case, Lawyer Representing Mahsa Jina Amini Sentenced to a Year in Prison

October 18, 2023 – A prominent and blind disability rights lawyer from Saqqez, the hometown of Mahsa Jina Amini, whose killing in Iranian state custody sparked months of anti-state protests, has gone missing after being unlawfully detained by Iranian state security forces, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.

“This is another example of the intensifying practice in the Islamic Republic of Iran of detaining and imprisoning individuals without due process, and then persecuting the lawyers who try to access justice and address these egregious rights violations,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI executive director.

“The lawyer Nasser Saragaran was detained in Iran because of the remarkable power of his voice,” Ghaemi added. “If he does not receive international calls for his release, the disability rights communities in Iran will endure a terrible loss.”

“Silence would also green-light the unlawful detainment of other disability rights advocates in Iran,” said Ghaemi.

CHRI emphasizes that given Sargaran’s visual impairment, he is particularly susceptible to potential mistreatment and abuse by Iranian authorities. He must be granted complete access to legal representation of his choice and ensured the ability to fully access all relevant documents.

Lawyer Arrested Amid State Campaign to Silence Disability Rights Group

Sargaran, 36, a university lecturer and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, was unlawfully detained at his family home in the city of Saqqez, Kurdistan province, on October 11, 2023, by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence. He was then transferred to the ministry’s detention center in the provincial capital, Sanandaj. It should be noted that he was arrested at his home without the presentation of a warrant.

Sargaran, an ethnic Kurd, is widely recognized in Saqqez as a prominent lawyer who has represented numerous detainees in connection with last year’s protests. Aged 36, he was blinded by a leftover landmine from the Iran-Iraq War and is known as a powerful voice for landmine victims in his community.

He has also been a fervent advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, actively contributing as a board member of the Institute for the Welfare of the Blind in Saqqez.

In recent weeks, there has been a notable surge in security and judicial pressures on activists advocating for the rights of people with disabilities in Iran. This has been especially the case regarding the Campaign to Pursue the Rights of People with Disabilities, a grassroots organization based in Tehran. Founded in 2007, the group champions the rights of individuals with disabilities, and Sargaran engaged with it to continue his work.

Two prominent activists, Behrouz Morovati, the national director of the Campaign to Pursue the Rights of People With Disabilities in Tehran, and Leila Mirkhoshhal, the group’s online administrator in the city of Qazvin, were summoned by the Ministry of Intelligence on October 11, the same day Sargaran was unlawfully detained. Information received by CHRI indicates that intelligence agents seized some of Morovati’s personal items, including a mobile phone.

The group, in a series of tweets, connected these summons to state investigations concerning an online school for people with disabilities. The Iranian government has a documented history of using scare tactics, as well as unlawful detainments and prosecutions on trumped-up charges, to silence advocacy groups that criticize state policies.

Lawyer of Mahsa Jina Amini Sentenced to a Year in Prison

In another case of a human rights lawyer being unjustly persecuted to silence his work, Saleh Nikbakht, who represented the family of a Mahsa Jina Amini, the 22-year-old who was killed in Iranian state custody in September 2022, just three days after she was arrested for her alleged inappropriate hijab, was sentenced to one year in prison. Amini’s death sparked months of anti-state protests that eventually culminated into the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement.

Nibakht was sentenced to prison for speaking about the case in general terms with journalists.

“Unfortunately, the court, without considering the defense presented by me and my client, sentenced him to the maximum penalty for [‘propaganda against the state’]… As a person knowledgeable in law, I emphasize that there is not a single sentence in [Saleh Nikbakht’s] interviews that would constitute ‘propaganda against the state,'” said his lawyer, Ali Rezaie, in an interview with Ensaf News.

“This conviction has been issued due to unlawful interpretations of the interviews,” he added.

Nibakht has not spoken about the sentence, which is eligible for appeal. As of this writing, he remained at home.

“It isn’t suprising that Nibakht was sentenced to prison, given that journalists who reported on Amini’s case have been jailed for more than year now simply for reporting facts about the case,” said Ghaemi.

“The international legal community must speak out more forcefully against the Iranian government’s decades-long crusade to eliminate independent lawyers in Iran,” he added. “Bar associations, international human rights lawyers, and rights organizations should all speak up for their besieged colleagues in the Islamic Republic.”

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