My Interview with Shirin Ebadi, Haleh Esfandiari’s Attorney:
She told her mother “Get me out of here.”
A few days after the broadcast of a television show featuring two Iranian academics, Shirin Ebadi, the defense lawyer for Haleh Esfandiari and winner of 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, says her client has been deprived of all her rights as a citizen since the case began. In an interview with Rooz, Ebadi said the day after the television program entitled “In the Name of Democracy” was broadcast, Haleh Esfandiari contacted her mother and said: “I don’t know what else to do. Get me out of here.” Following is the interview.
It appears that even though the investigations are complete, you still have no access to your client. Do you know about Dr. Esfandiari’s conditions in prison after “In the Name of Democracy” was aired? Will it finally be possible (for a judge) to set bail for her or will you be able to act on her defense?
I should have had access to my client from the very first day. She should have received legal counsel before talking. None of the articles of Citizen’s Rights Law have been observed in her case. This morning Ms. Esfandiari talked to her mother. Her mother told me her voice was tired and sad and she said on the phone: “I don’t know what else to do. I am very tired. Get me out of here.”
How would you evaluate the condition she currently has?
I have been trying to meet my client for the past two and a half months, but I have not been authorized to see her. Based on international regulations and Iranian laws, whatever an individual says under psychological pressure is not admissible. The way to prove that a prisoner’s statements have not been made under psychological pressure is to receive those statements in the presence of her chosen attorney in a fair and public trial. Therefore none of Haleh Esfandiari’s statements are legally acceptable and lack credibility.
Is broadcasting a prisoner’s statements in prison, following the well-known framework, in keeping with her Citizenship Rights [as defined in Citizen’s Rights Law]?
Broadcasting Ms. Esfandiari’s statements, and accusing her of “actions against national security,” and “participation in soft or velvet overthrow” campaigns, as has been done by the Judiciary Speaker and Ministry of Information, are all violations of her Citizenship Rights, because until someone is officially informed of her charges, is given a chance to defend herself, her attorney is given a chance to defend her, a verdict is issued, and an overall fair trial is held, no one can be accused. The verdict will have to become final before the charges are made public. I regret that systems responsible for upholding the law and those responsible for putting those laws into effect do not respect the law—these are laws they authored and passed themselves. I am critical of many of these laws because they fall short of human rights standards; but even these laws are not respected [by the Judiciary and Executive branches]. Ms. Esfandiari has been denied all her Citizenship Rights from the moment she was arrested.
Is there any legal recourse in this area? Can you, for example, prepare a list of all the instances her Citizen’s Rights have been violated, filing a suit against organizations responsible for this violation?
All that has taken place in the case of Haleh Esfandiari, much like what has happened in the cases of other political prisoners, is against our Criminal Justice Law and international human rights standards. I believe that in all cases, the authorities can be criticized about violation of human rights. This might be the reason the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly issued resolutions against Iran, accusing Iran of violations of human rights.
Over the past few months, some newspapers have used words such as “spy” or similar words. Since no such accusations have been proven, won’t you consider filing a suit against those media to defend your client?
All individuals and publications who have called Ms. Esfandiari, and whomever else whose charges have not been proven, a spy or disruptive to public order , or any other titles of a criminal nature, can be legally pursued. I regret that the judge appointed to the case has not even given me authorization to meet my client in person. I would have sought her approval for me to pursue those who have called my client guilty before she has been given a chance to prove her innocence.
Why were you forbidden to meet her?
They had no legal explanations for this decision. All they said was that I had to wait until the investigations are complete.
Since in Iranian laws, there is no criminal conduct defined as “soft overthrow” from a legal point of view, how would you evaluate the television show, In the Name of Democracy?
All that is called “soft overthrow,” or “velvet revolution” in our media, is really the victory of one group over another in an elections. For example, when one group wins the elections in a country, is it fair to say that they have performed a “soft overthrow?” If so, then what good are elections? What good are democratic and parliamentary competitions? Not only is this not a valid charge in our laws, such actions are not crimes on principle. This is how political parties came to be. Political parties vie for power, so if a political party works hard to gain power, is it right to call that party an overthrower or an agent of velvet revolution?
When they showed your client on television, considering you had not been authorized to see her over the past several months, how did you feel?
I chose not to see this broadcast. Watching this illegally prepared program would have been some type of approval for these actions. I expected all law-respecting citizens of Iran to turn off their television sets the minute this program started, displaying their objection to this illegal action. I turned off my TV set, as I won’t view something that would make a mockery of people’s reputations through illegal means.
National Iranian television has in effect been involved in disseminating information about an illegal act on a national level. Do you think Ms. Esfandiari will ever have a chance to have her defense speech from the same television, or will IRIB continue to be a tool only in the hands of one side?
IRIB aired a program entitled “Hoviat” (identity) several years ago. Now they air this program, proving once again that they are not an impartial medium. We expect a national medium to be impartial. Such an expectation continues to go unmet.