Lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani Languishes in Prison

Hutan-KianJustice for Iran, May 5, 2013 | Justice for Iran has nominatedHoutan Kian, an imprisoned Iranian attorney for a 2013 award presented by Lawyers for Lawyers, a Dutch organization with the aim to help lawyers in danger around the world.This courageous lawyer, whose most recent client was Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, is reportedly banned from prison visits and receiving money through any means, including his personal bank account. A former prison mate of Mr. Kian’s told JFI:

  “Prisoners are issued a bank card that their family members are supposed to deposit money into it. Prisoners are then able to use the money to purchase items from the prison store. This bank card seems to be the only means for a prisoner to receive money. Without the ability to purchase items at the prison store living conditions become almost intolerable because the quality of the daily food given to prisoners is bad and fruits are not included in their diet. Houtan Kian has been deprived of his right of obtaining a bank card, which means he has no means of affording items at the prison store…He is unable to buy even one apple. Overall, Houtan Kian is deprived of [multiple] rights, including being deprived of prison visits, phone calls, and from talking to other prisoners.”

The source says that despite the devastating effects of torture, Houtan Kian continues to do his job as a human rights lawyer from inside the prison. Since his imprisonment Mr. Kian has reportedly written statements and letters in defense of some prisoners and helped save a few from death row.  “When we were held in the same ward I remember that every night approximately 30 prisoners would form a line outside our ward hoping Houtan Kian would work on their case. He is very popular among the prisoners, but prison authorities despise him for taking on Sakineh’s case because her case received too much international attention and thus shamed the regime,” the source says.

In summer 2010 Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani became one of the most internationally defended names when news surfaced that she was in imminent danger of stoning for an adultery charge. On the other hand, Houtan Kian may arguably be the most forgotten imprisoned Iranian lawyer. Following a widespread global campaign to save her life Islamic Republic authorities suspended Ms. Mohammadi Ashtiani’s stoning sentence, though she is still in danger of death through hanging for a murder charge.

Houtan Kian and his client are both held in Tabriz Prison, a remote detention centre where information regarding prisoners is difficult to get out. Mr. Kian’s former cell mate tells JFI that the Iranian lawyer was recently transferred from the methadone ward—a place reserved for prisoners faced with drug-related charges– to a different ward.

BACKGROUND

Houtan Kian worked as a lawyer mainly on a pro bono basis and usually took on cases that were political or contained heavy sentences such as stoning or executions. According to a VOA interview, Mr. Kian has taken on more than 170 cases in Iran related to execution or stoning. In July 2010, the Islamic Republic Judiciary had appointed Mr. Kian the defense lawyer for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani until he was arrested a few months later.

Prior to his arrest Mr. Kian had given a number of interviews to foreign media regarding Ms. Mohammadi Ashtiani’s case. In the same VOA interview, Mr. Kian described the lack of a fair trial and due process in his client’s case and also reacted to the fact that her confessions were aired on satellite television.

ARREST AND IMPRISONMENT

Houtan Kian along with Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, the son of Sakineh Mohammad Ashtiani and two German journalists were arrested at his office in Tabriz on October 10, 2010 while in the middle of a media interview.

After two unlawful hearings Mr. Kian was sentenced to six years in prison by Judge Rahim Hamlbar at Branch 1 of Tabriz Revolutionary Court as well as Judge Kianoush Shokouh Tazeh at Branch 104 of Tabriz Criminal Court. His charges include: “Propaganda against the regime”, “Acting against state security”, and “Gathering and colluding with intent to harm state security”. Islamic Republic authorities have never granted Mr. Kian the right to a lawyer during the judicial stages of his case.a

The day after his arrest Houtan Kian was transferred to ward 209 of Tehran’s Evin Prison where he says he was subjected to the severest forms of torture. On December 12, 2010 he was transferred back to Tabriz and temporarily held in a detention centre operated by the Ministry of Intelligence. Following his first court hearing Mr. Kian was transferred to Tabriz Central Prison. He was first held in a ward reserved for political prisoners and prisoners convicted of financial crimes but later Mr. Naghizadeh, the head of Tabriz Prison transferred him to the methadone ward. Most prisoners in the methadone ward are detained on drug-related charges.

Mr. Kian’s former prison mate says: “The methadone ward is the worst ward in Tabriz Prison. Before moving a prisoner to the methadone ward the family of the prisoner must sign a waiver form, just like one would do before undergoing surgery, in the event that the prisoner dies. Prisoners in the methadone ward resemble ghosts… They let out horrifying groans at night from the physical pain they experience. There are currently 20 prisoners in this ward who have AIDS or Hepatitis.”

In a letter Houtan Kian wrote from prison in 2011, he says he has made attempts to reach out to judicial officials but they have been unresponsive. Mr. Kian adds that Islamic Republic authorities have deprived him of his right to see his family, including his young daughter.

Two days prior to his transfer out from Evin Prison’s ward 209 Press TV had aired a propagandized program which aimed to validate that in addition to adultery Ms. Mohammadi Ashtiani was also guilty of murder. The program aired an interview with Houtan Kian, who in his letter from prison states that he gave the interview to end the torture he was subjected to. According to Mr. Kian he had been burned with cigarettes on his testicles, legs, and feet; soaked with water and left for hours in the cold; and had his teeth broken. Additionally, Mr. Kian says that Islamic Republic authorities had lied and told him the taped interview would not be aired anywhere and will only remain in the archive of the Ministry of Intelligence. They also told him that if he cooperated with the interview that he would be released from prison. The Press TV program did not clarify that Mr. Kian is a prisoner and instead made it seem like the interview was being conducted under normal circumstances.

Houtan Kian’s lawyer, Naghi Mohammadian, who is currently living in exile outside Iran, had visited her client in Tabriz Prison in April 2011. He says, “After over six months, signs of burns and torture were still discernible on [Houtan Kian’s] hands and feet.”

Justice for Iran calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Houtan Kian and an official halt to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s execution sentence. JFI urges the international community to react to the abuses and injustices Mr. Kian and his client have endured by holding the responsible authorities, Judges Rahim Hamlbar and Kianoush Shokouh Tazeh accountable. Additionally, JFI urges the United Nations, specifically Special Rapporteurs, to act urgently to ensure that the torture against Mr. Kian and his client ends and their basic human rights are granted.