Abdolfatah Soltani, lawyer and member of the High Oversight Council of the Defenders of Human Rights is representing Roxana Saberi, along with colleagues Shirin Ebadi and Mahnaz Parakand. This legal team has taken up the case of Roxana Saberi, a journalist accused of spying, after she was sentenced to and eight years prison term, at the request of her father. In regard to the manner in which the case against Roxana Saberi has been handled by the courts, Abdolfatah Soltani has written an open letter addressed to Ayatollah Shahroudi the head of the Judiciary. After the courts sentenced Roxana Saberi to an eight years prison term, Saberi’s father requested the Defenders of Human Rights Center to take up her defense. As such, Shirin Ebadi, Abdolfatah Soltani, and Mahnaz Parakand have taken up Saberi’s defense as a team. The letter by Abdolfatah Soltani to the Head of the Judiciary appears below:
The Honorable Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi,
The letter from the office of the President, addressed to Mr. Said Mortazavi, the Prosecutor of the Public and Revolutionary Courts in Tehran, was published in the press on April 19th, 2009. This letter, if we were not to consider it as a ploy to attract votes on the verge of the Presidential elections, served as both an occasion for joy and surprise by any objective observer.
It is an occasion for joy because it signifies that the head of the executive branch feels responsibility with respect to an Iranian citizen, thus asking from Judiciary officials that fairness, justice and legal standards in the case of Ms. Roxana Saberi be observed.
But it is an occasion for surprise for the following reasons:
First, the fact that the honorable President, has addressed his comments and concerns to the Tehran Prosecutor instead of Judiciary officials responsible for Appellate courts is surprising, because this component of the trial in question (the overturning of the sentence issued in this case and the issuance of a new sentence by the appeals court) does not fall under the purview of the prosecutor. This action conveys the impression that the President is unaware of court procedures and processes, or that he believes all court decisions are ultimately made by the Tehran Prosecutor.
Second, despite the existence of Rule 168 in the Constitution, it is surprising that the honorable head of the Judiciary did not order such cases to be reviewed by special courts, which are open to the public and which are presided over by judges who are not viewed as affiliated with particular political groups.
But the main point, why is it that political cases in general and in particular political cases which tend to be more sensitive, are referred to a certain select courts which have a history of issuing severe and harsh sentences for defendants accused of political crimes? And why is it that these same cases, when appealed, are then referred to appellate courts which tend to uphold rulings issued by the original courts?
Unfortunately it seems that Rule 168 of the Constitution seems to have been forgotten, and the judiciary has fallen short on its duty to convene public courts with juries in political cases. This is an unforgivable oversight by the Judiciary, which should indeed be accountable in these instances to both god and the Iranian public.
In the end, I would like to point to one example to demonstrate the inability of the courts to observe legal standards in the case of Ms. Roxana Saberi, which transpired on the 18th of April:
After Ms. Saberi’s father came to our offices and secured the legal expertise of myself, Ms. Ebadi and Ms. Parakand, one of our colleagues, along with Mr. Gholamreza Saberi, Roxana’s father, went to the 28th Branch of the Revolutionary Courts to file papers and to have them signed by Ms. Saberi, so that our legal team could take up her defense. The judge in charge of the 28th Branch of the Revolutionary Courts announced that Roxana Saberi is not banned from visits and as such we can visit with her on the condition that we obtain the permission of prison officials. After going to the prison along with Mr. Saberi, and despite the agreement of the Assistant Prosecutor at the prison, the officials in charge of Section 209 of Evin Prison [administered by the Intelligence Ministry Officials] prevented us from meeting with Ms. Saberi in order to have her sign the appropriate forms for us to take up her legal defense. Given these developments I ask the following questions from the honorable head of the Judiciary:
1. Doesn’t the prevention of our visit with Ms. Saberi with the intent to have her sign legal documents providing us with the right to defend her in court, despite the fact that she is not banned from visits, constitute a violation of her fundamental rights?
2. Doesn’t the prevention of our visit with Ms. Saberi by the security officials at Evin Prison, constitute an obstinate decision in direct contradiction to the orders issued by judiciary officials?
3. Amendment 187 of the regulation of prisons, adopted in 2005, allows for visits with prisoners should permission be obtained from the judge in charge of the case or a judge at the prison, especially with respect to prisoners who are not banned from visits. Given Amendment 187, visits of lawyers with their imprisoned clients intended to process court documents, should be facilitated through an order by the judge at the prison. Now this question remains, why is it that prison officials, through the issuance of directives and other means, only allow for visits of prisoners whose case falls under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts with their lawyers on condition of a special approval from the judge in charge of the case? Aren’t such actions in contradiction to the existing regulations and don’t they promote the violation of rights of the accused?
I hope that you, as the Head of the Judiciary, along with other Judiciary Officials show greater sensitivity and take steps to appropriately ensure the implementation and observance of legal standards and existing laws. And in this particular case, I hope that you issue an order so that this case is heard in an appropriate court where judicial and legal procedures and measures are fully observed.