The Guardian – Human rights activists have raised serious concerns about a lawyer who fell foul of Iran‘s Islamic regime for highlighting the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.
On the first anniversary of the international uproar that forced Iran to temporarily halt the punishment of Mohammadi Ashtiani, campaigners said they had fears for her lawyer, Houtan Kian, who remains incommunicado in prison nine months after he was arrested and has been reportedly tortured.
Kian was arrested last October with Mohammadi Ashtiani’s son, Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, and two German journalists who were interviewing them without the government’s permission in the western city of Tabriz. A few weeks before his arrest, Kian had complained that his house had been raided by security forces and his files confiscated.
The 37-year-old lawyer was appointed by the government to represent Ashtiani. Despite threats from the regime, he spoke to foreign media in support of his client, whose stoning case prompted international condemnation from human rights groups and celebrities.
Despite the outcry, Ashtiani’s fate remains unclear in the face of a series of ambiguous and often contradictory comments made by Iran’s judiciary and government. But, thanks to the media frenzy, her immediate sentence of death is on hold.
Shadi Sadr, a prominent Iranian lawyer who has represented many women facing stoning sentences, said: “I have received new information from a source in Tabriz that Kian had been severely mistreated and tortured while in jail.
“Kian and Mohammad Mostafaei [Ashtiani’s other lawyer], became victims themselves only for defending their client.”
Mostafaei also fell foul of the regime for speaking to media in support of Ashtiani, and was forced to flee Iran. He now lives in Norway.
Other Iranian lawyers have been targeted by the Iranian regime in recent months in what is seen as a new crackdown. Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 11 years in jail last year and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah received nine years two days ago.
In March, a letter that was apparently written by Kian and smuggled out of jail, circulated around Iranian websites but did not receive coverage in the west due to concerns over its authenticity. Sadr said on Wednesday she had received confirmation that it was in fact written by him.
In the letter, he wrote: “All the signs of torture remain on my body … I have been burned by approximately 60 cigarettes on my legs, testicles and feet (5 cigarettes there). I am only given one meal a day, in the morning; once it was a small piece of cheese, another time, three dates.
“My teeth have been almost completely broken by blows with boots, as has my nose, which bleeds permanently. At midnight, in cold weather, I was soaked with a fire hose and left, with hands and feet bound, in the courtyard until four in the morning, when I was taken to be interrogated.”
Some Iranian websites have reported that Kian was sentenced to 11 years in jail but this could not be independently confirmed. Sadr said the history of political activity in Kian’s family also contributed to his current situation. Kian’s father was executed after Iran’s revolution in 1979 for supporting an opposition group. “Mistreatment of Kian in jail is a clear message from Iran to human rights activists for continuing their work,” Sadr said.
The embarrassment caused by Ashtiani’s sentence becoming known forced Iran to react in various ways. The president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said in an interview last year in New York that a death sentence by stoning had never been handed down. Iran’s judiciary, on the other hand, confirmed her stoning sentence but attempted to alleviate the impact by portraying her as a murderer of her husband.
Last December, Iran’s state-run English-language television channel, Press TV, which has its main office in London, broadcast a programme that showed Ashtiani and her son participating in the reconstruction of her alleged part in the murder of her husband. The broadcast of the interview was described by human rights activists as “forced confessions” and “unethical” but in response to a complaint to the broadcast of the programme, the media regulator Ofcom ruled in March, to surprise of many, that the Iranian station did not breach UK’s broadcasting rules in transmitting the programme.
According to Amnesty International, Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning for “adultery while married” but was also given a 10-year prison term in 2006 for the murder of her husband, which her lawyer said was subsequently reduced to five years for “complicity” in the crime.
Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, an Iranian human rights activist based in Norway who is also a spokesman for the NGO Iran Human Rights which has monitored Iran’s history of stoning, said seven people have been stoned to death in the country since 2006 and at least 14 Iranians are facing death by stoning.