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Iran Video: BBC Interview with Human Rights Lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei

The BBC's HARDTalk has a 23-minute interview with lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei, who has represented Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the women sentenced to death for adultery, and many other clients facing execution or lengthy sentences.

Mostafaei recently fled Iran when authorities tried to detain him, imprisoning his wife and brother-in-law for weeks.

Part 1 of 2


Part 2 of 2


Reader Comments (6)

"Ashtiani recently fled Iran when authorities tried to detain him, imprisoning his wife and brother-in-law for weeks." You meant to say "mostafayi recently fled iran ...."

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterN_bank1970


Thank you for carrying my error. Apology to readers.


August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScottLucas11

D Branson
This is a transcription of that interview on HARDtalk
Mohammad Mostafaei is a human rights lawyer. His life has changed forever because of his involvement in a case that has caused an international outcry; a woman who was sentenced to death by stoning in Iran for adultery. In the last few weeks Mohammad Mostafaei has faced a series of agonized choices. Did he make the right decision?

Mohammad Mostafaei, welcome to HARDtalk

Thank you for inviting me, to explain about my problems and what has happened to me.

Well we are talking in Oslo; you talk about the problems you face, the tumultuous few weeks you’ve been through. What are your feelings right now her in the Norwegian capital?

I did not have similar experiences in the past. It’s only in the last six or seven years that I‘ve had a tough time. I am in Oslo today. I am really sad that I cannot be in Iran to serve my clients. But I am happy that I’ve come to a country that completely observes human rights.

Do you believe that you have left Iran for good? Do you feel that you have entered an exile that it would be impossible for you to go home?

I would very much like to work in Iran and I would like to announce here that if I’m given enough guarantees and judicial security, I am ready to go back to Iran and continue what I used to do, that is saving my clients. If this does not prove possible, I will do other human rights-related issues here.

Let’s talk about the reasons you are here and may of them concern a particular case, that of the woman Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Now she is in Tabriz prison, she’s been there for more than four years. She has received punishment for an illicit relationship, actually with two men. She also stands convicted of adultery and was sentenced to death by stoning. Explain to why you became so involved with her case.

After I received my permit to act as a lawyer, I gave priority to women’s rights. During the past few years, I was also working on cases of stoning; Sakineh Mohammadi was one of my cases. I tried to prove that stoning was an inhumane punishment. So, I decided to become her lawyer too.

This case, that of Ms Ashtiani, has attracted worldwide attention because you chose to publicize it. You wrote about it in a blog, a human rights blog that you write, and you also gave interviews to the international media whilst you were still in Iran. Do you regret giving so much publicity to this case of Ms Ashtiani?

This is what I do with my other cases too; I did not do it for Sakineh Mohammadi’s case alone. However Sakineh Mohammadi became a symbol here. There were others too – Delara Derabi, Behnoud Shojaee, Mohammad Reza Haddadi and many others.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani appeared on television, she said things she appeared to acknowledge the illicit relationship with he husband’s cousin. She also appeared to acknowledge that she had some involvement in the murder of her husband. What is your reaction to her appearance on Iranian television?

Concerning her relationship with another man – I may say that ‘relationship” has a certain sentence and “adultery has a different sentence. She has never said that she committed adultery. She said that she had a relationship. The sentence for having a relationship is not stoning. Concerning the programme aired at 20:30 by Iranian TV, the viewers should know that this programme is not under the control of the Iranian radio and TV organization. I believe that this programme is prepared under the supervision of Iran’s security organizations, especially the Ministry of Intelligence. Most of what is aired on this programme is simply lies. The programme-makers may have two objectives. One: to ruin and humiliate well-known individuals, I do not however consider myself well-known. Secondly: to justify the acts of those who abuse their power.

From your knowledge of Sakineh Mohammadi and her case, do you believe that she would have appeared on that programme and said the things she said of her own free will?

Ms. Sakineh Mohammadi talked partly of herself. I agree with what she said. She said that the relationship was not at the level of adultery. This relationship is a different issue. She also tried to assassinate my character, with which I do not agree. I believe she said those things because she was under pressure. We should handle what she said very carefully – for example, I believe what she said about me was not true. I have not received even a penny on human-rights related issues. I worked sincerely. I discussed every issue with my clients. My aim was to save them.

So the Iranian media accuses you of using this particular case for your own purposes; one: because you’ve run a long campaign against stoning as a penalty in the Iranian judicial system and two: because you are looking for a reason, an excuse which would allow you to leave the country and claim political asylum in the west.

Stoning campaigns existed in our country for many years. Such campaigns always existed and no-one has tried to stop them. Concerning my departure from the country, the case is not as you said. I have travelled to various countries in the past. Last year I received a one-year multiple visa from the Norwegian embassy. I therefore do not have any problem staying outside my own country. I never considered misleading any of my clients

You have been representing clients who have been accused of sexual misconduct, sexual crimes, for quite long time. Why do you think the authorities have chosen to make a move against you in the case of Mohammadi Ashtiani now, when you have been doing this sort of work and particularly speaking out against the sentence of stoning there, for a long time?

So far no-one has said why I was being prosecuted. I was summoned for questioning, and that was the day wife was taken as hostage. On that day I was requested to attend an interview. During that interview, I was not asked about the issues that you just referred to. I was only asked about helping the under-eighteens who were sentenced to execution. They had nothing to do with the cases which you referred to. Therefore, I do not so far know why the media has connected to the cases that you are referring to, including the case of Sakineh Mohammadi, to me.

Well let’s talk about your personal decision making a little bit because you clearly are facing
Incredibly difficult decisions in recent weeks. You talk about the day towards the end of July when you were called in to Evin prison for an interrogation with Intelligence officers, you tell me it wasn’t really about the case of Mohammadi Ashtiani at all. But you are accused of corruption, financial irregularities, a whole host of misdemeanors, and rather again go back and talk to them again, to face whatever accusations they were, you chose to flee, to escape. Why?

I had never said that I had been involved in financial corruption, only financial irregularities. Financial corruption is different from financial irregularities. The reason that I fled was not to save myself from the charges that were levelled against me. The reason that I left the country was that an interrogator acted against the law in a justice department. I was interrogated for around three to four hours. I can’t remember exactly how long. I was not charged at all. After a few hours, I realized that an arrest warrant had been issued against me. When the security officials went to my office and raided it, I realized that an arrest warrant was issued against me. I still went to my office. When I arrived at the office no-one was there to arrest me. At eleven pm. I realized that they’d arrested my wife and her brother when they went to pick up their car. I was told they’d been arrested as a guarantee that I would turn myself in. Then I decided not to turn myself in. This was the main reason I left the country. I did not intend to leave the country at that time.

But I want to talk to you about the human reaction, your feelings as a human being that knew that your wife was being held. You have a seven year old daughter at home. You decided the only option for you was to flee: to try to leave the country. How hard was that?

I deal with human-rights related affairs. I can’t just let myself be ruled by my feelings, especially in view of my profession. I was sure that the Judiciary could not hold my wife for any length of time. Therefore I decided not to go to the authorities If my wife was released the same day or the following day, I would certainly have turned myself in. But I could not accept it when I heard that my wife would have been released only if I had turned up for questioning. At the same time, it was difficult to decide not to turn myself in. I love my wife and daughter, but I love my people as well.

She, your wife was held in solitary confinement for quite a number of days in Evin prison. When you understood the seriousness of the situation she was in, what effect did that have on you?

When I realized that the situation had become serious, only one thing that could save my wife; and that was to leave my country. The sooner I left, the sooner she would be released. When the Judicial authorities realized that I was in Turkey, they took the necessary measures to ensure her release, and when I left Turkey they released her.

But you have a daughter of seven years old, you haven’t seen her now for several weeks. Have you spoken to her?

This is one of the worst questions that I may be asked. When I here the name of my daughter, I become really emotional. I cannot even speak to her over the phone. This is because I have never been away from her.

How do you think you will explain to her as she grows up, that you had to leave?

My daughter already knows what will happen. She knows why I am working. She already knows. She knows that I have done nothing against the law. My daughter is a logical girl. Her mother has explained my current situation to her. I know that she understands what has happened to me.

And for you, and I know that this is extraordinarily difficult, but for you, you truly believe that sticking to your principals and trying to defend what you see as right, is worth the pain that you are obviously going through now?

I am just one individual, but there are millions of people living in Iran. Any one of them may be somehow oppressed. I am not talking of oppression of those in power. I am talking about the
Oppression of family and society, as well as what is caused by inappropriate laws, which may be against human rights. Maybe after a few months nobody would ever hear my voice again. But still
I preferred to make my voice heard, even for a short period of time. Everyone should know that Iran’s judicial system is not good. The law prevailing in Iran is not the right one. Iran may even have a good law, but the law is being violated in most cases.

It strikes me as something deeply political about what has happened to you. You have been accused in elements of the official media of aiding and abetting western propaganda against Iran, harming Iran’s interest. You also, I believe, have in your legal practice some of the people who fell foul of the authorities as a result of their involvement in the green protest movement. Do you think there is a political undercurrent to what has happened to you because the regime sees you as part of a movement which wants to change politics in Iran?

During the time that I have been working, I have never been affiliated to any political group. I have never thought of politicizing any issue. I only raised legal issues. Thos involved in politics, politicize many things. For example, our President defends Iran’s right to nuclear energy. This issue is being reflected at the international level. Many are against it. He rightfully defends Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy, and I defend my clients. If my work, that is, defending my clients, is going to have negative consequences for me, the same should apply to our President. So how is it that I am here, and he is there? That he has access to official podiums and I don’t?.

Are you saying that you have no affiliation whatsoever with the green protest movement, the political movement inside Iran?

No, no. I respect all groups. But I have never been in any group. I have never accepted to be the lawyer of those who carried out political activities, such as the advisors to Mr. Karoubi and Mr. Mousavi . But I never got involved in political activities.

But is it so easy for you as a lawyer to draw a complete distinction between legal work and political work. I n the Iran of today politics covers and colours so many different aspects of life. Surely your own situation is about politics, it’s not just about interpretation of the law. Let me quote you some words from an Iranian blogger, Eskandar Sadighi, who is in exile, wrote this for the Guardian newspaper, he said, “the brute reality of state power in Iran has overwhelmed an opposition that is ill-equipped to meet the regimes iron fist, and put crudely, the guys calling the shots have the guns, and they are willing to use them”. Isn’t that the reality of Iran today, and you’ve come up against it?

I think we should differentiate political issues from legal issues. I believe that the issue of human rights is being abused for political purposes. I accept this, and I have referred to it everywhere, including in Iran. I used to say the same things that I used to say abroad during my interviews, without having any problem. We should make appropriate decisions in our country. One of the decisions would be to annul stoning, and replace it with a humane sentence. Defendants should be able to get back to their lives. The object behind punishment is to make defendants understand their mistake, and get ready to return to society and continue their lives. And the execution of under eighteens should be completely annulled as we do not have it anywhere in the world

Is that going to be possible your vision of Iran as long as it remains a theocracy. An Islamic republic, where the ultimate authority lies, for the moment at least, lies with the Ayatollah Khamenei and that is the way the system works.

We should pay attention to two issues. Some sensitive issues may be changed. Annulling the execution of the under eighteens is not against Islam and Shari’ah. Concerning stoning, nothing has been mentioned in the Koran. So stoning can be removed from the penal code. Certain rules can be changed. We even allow slavery in Islam, but slavery is no longer practiced. There were too many rules from the past that are not relevant any more. Most importantly one should consider the expediency of the state. If one wants to regard the expediency of the state, it should be ready to revise some of its rules.

A final thought which brings us back to your own situation. You have face the most agonizing choices and dilemmas in recent weeks and months. Do you regret any of the choices you have made/

It’s not that recently that I’ve been face with difficult choices. I Have had my own personal struggles since I was a child. I had to work. My mother used to work hard. I did whatever I needed to do. I worked since I was seven. I worked hard. It was a struggle to study, and going to university was not easy either. My life has been made up of tough periods. I have always had difficulties in my life. Then I started working in the legal profession. But I enjoyed saving od helping children, working for women’s rights. It’s because my mother has had a hard life, I had a hard life too. Therefore, my hardship in the past few weeks was totally bearable.

Mohammad Mostafaei, thank you very much for being on HARDtalk

August 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDbranson


Many thanks for this.


August 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScottLucas11

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August 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVideo – BBC’s inte

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August 24, 2010 | Unregistered

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