Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Pro bono legal services under attack in Iran

This report from Amnesty International is deeply disturbing.

Amnesty International is alarmed at the continuing erosion in the human rights situation in Iran, highlighted by the announcement that the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR, in Persian, Kanoon-e Modafean Hogooge Bashar), co-founded by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, has been banned.

The banning of the CDHR, and threats of arrest against its members should they continue their work, strikes at the heart of the struggle for human rights in Iran. The targeting of the CDHR is symbolic of the climate of intimidation and harassment endured by Iran’s community of human rights defenders in the course of their work.

On 3 August, the Ministry of Interior announced that the CDHR had been banned. A statement by the Secretariat of the Committee for Article 10 of the Law on Party and Organization Activities said “…any activity under the name of Kanoon-e Modafean Hogooge Bashar is illegal and violators will be prosecuted accordingly”.

The CDHR was established in 2002, by Shirin Ebadi. Its members include some of Iran’s leading human rights defenders and lawyers. The CDHR has made an inestimable contribution to the development of a culture of human rights in Iran, and the efforts of other human rights defenders in Iran have been bolstered its work.

The CDHR has three stated roles, reporting violations of human rights in Iran; providing pro-bono legal representation to political prisoners; and support to the families of political prisoners. Its members have pursued high profile cases of impunity, and defended high profile victims of human rights violations. Lawyers for the CDHR represented the family of Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian journalist who died in Evin prison in June 2003, and prisoner of conscience Akbar Ganji.

In the midst of all the media confusion about what is going on in the Mideast, this sure seems to me like a very troubling objective development. Think what you want about Amnesty International, but they occasionally are spot on the heart of the matter.


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