The Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) was formed in 2001 by an initial group of five members who were also lawyers. The five founding members included: Ms. Shirin Ebadi, Mr. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, Mr. Mohammad Seifzadeh, Mr. Mohammad Sharif, and Mr. Abdolfatah Soltani. It is worth mentioning that at that point, four of the founders were on the verge of going to prison as a result of defending those accused of political crimes. Of course in appeals the prison sentences of two of the founders of DHRC was reduced to a financial fine but two others Mr. Abdolfatah Soltani and Mr. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah were sentenced to 4 months at Evin prison. Based on this development, at the beginning the weekly meetings of DHRC was held on the ground floor of the Iranian Bar association and then later in the visitor’s hall of Evin prison—meaning that the other three members of the DHRC who were not in prison would go to Evin to visit with the two imprisoned members and the group. As such these meetings were held at Evin prison and DHRC business was discussed these brief visits.
According to its bylaws, the DHRC has established an oversight governing council, which consists of five permanent members and two members with observer status.
It should be explained that after the resignation of Mr. Mohammad Sharif, Mr. Majid Pourostad elected as a permanent member of the DHRC and after his resignation, Ms. Nargess Mohammadi who had held observer status on the oversight governing council of DHRC was elected as a permanent member, in 2006.
In 2003 the DHRC received the Human Rights Prize from the National Human Rights Institution of the French Government, and Mr. Abdolfatah Soltani traveled to France to receive this prize from the French Prime Minister.
The DHRC believes that according to the Iranian Constitution no human rights, political or trade organization needs to obtain an operating license from the Iranian government in order to carry out activities. Despite the fact that members of the DHRC find registration regulations for NGOs in contradiction to the law, in an effort to demonstrate good will, the DHRC decided to abide by regulations requiring the registration of non-governmental organizations and apply for permits to the Ministry of Interior. After two years in 2005 the establishment of the DHRC was approved by the Ministry of the Interior in accordance with the “Article 10 of the Law Governing Political Parties.” Unfortunately and for reasons not clarified, to date, the Ministry of the Interior has refused to issue an operating permit for the DHRC.
The DHRC is focused on the following activities:
1. Provision of pro-bono defense of those accused of political crimes or prisoners of conscience—a number of lawyers and law students assist the DHRC in this respect.
2. Provision of support to the families of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience—the DHRC believes that the imprisonment of one member of the family, can impact negatively the entire family. As such, the DHRC provides to families of imprisoned political prisoners when appropriate and based on it capacity to do so.
3. Development and publication of yearly and quarterly reports on the situation of human rights in Iran—the Center produces quarterly and yearly reports on the situation of human rights in Iran and also issues statements clarifying its position on various human rights issues.
4. Dissemination of information and convening of press conferences with the aim of raising awareness on human rights issues, reducing human rights violations and promoting human rights. Press conferences and information sharing activities focus on international human rights treaties, and their violations in Iran.
5. Development of Human Rights Groups/Institutions/Organizations. The DHRC has effectively worked to convene human rights groups such as the Committee for Free, Healthy and Fair Elections or the Temporary Committee for Peace.
6. Facilitation of dialogue between various intellectuals and activists in the area of human rights and the provision of human rights education to these groups. The DHRC main goal is the promotion of human rights. To this end, the following activities are carried out by the DHRC:
a. Convening of training workshops on human rights, the rights of the accused, women’s rights, etc, which are offered free of charge for various social activists and groups;
b. Convening of discussion groups with experts on the subject of human rights, democracy and Islam;
c. Convening of a discussion groups with experts and women’s rights activists on the issue of women’s rights; and
d. Presenting a Human Rights Award to a human rights activist who has been persecuted in relation to his or her activities.
It should be mentioned the Defenders of Human Rights Center became a member of the International Federation of Human Rights Organizations (FIDH), headquartered in France in 2003.
The Center also organizes a yearly celebration on the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 10). The first of these celebrations included congratulatory messages from renowned figures such as Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (2004-2008), Ms. Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize Recipient (1997), and Mairead Corrigan Maguire Nobel Peace Prize Recipient (1977).