“The authorities…told me that they are trying to grind me to oblivion.”
Mohammad Najafi, a human rights lawyer facing years behind bars in Iran for publicly arguing that local police tried to conceal the cause of a detainee’s death, says he is determined to continue seeking justice for the victim.
“I will follow up on Vahid Heydari’s case within the framework of the law and if his family wants me to represent them, I will do so and defend their rights to the fullest without the slightest hesitation,” Najafi told the Center for Human Rights in Iran on May 6, 2018.
“As I’m speaking to you right now, there are four warrants against me,” he added. “I have been a lawyer and writer for years and during this time I have been repeatedly charged and acquitted. The authorities themselves have told me that they are trying to grind me to oblivion.”
He continued: “When I was being prosecuted in connection with labor protests at the HEPCO industrial plant in Arak, the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] IRGC agent said to me straight that they will paralyze me by constantly detaining and prosecuting me. In fact, they have succeeded in putting me under financial pressure and disrupted my life.”
In January 2018, Najafi told media outlets that Heydari, 22, was beaten before he died at the 12th Police Station in Arak before his death later that month. The authorities claimed that Heydari was a drug addict who committed suicide.
“I believe that this young man did not take his own life,” Najafi said. “This young man was a protester. They arrested him and then they beat and killed him. Now they want to destroy his reputation.”
The outspoken human rights lawyer has been free on bail (1 billion tomans; approximately $237,000) since April 17, 2018, after spending nearly three months in detention. He is facing several years in prison on various national security charges including “disturbing public order” and “propaganda against the state.”
“I have been ordered to show up at the Criminal Court in Arak [Markazi Province] on May 14 to face some of the charges against me,” he told CHRI. “I will be jointly tried with other civil rights activists in Shazand [city] who were arrested at the same time.”
It’s unclear why his co-defendants—civil rights activists Ali Bagheri, Kian Sadeghi, Abbas Safari, Gholam-Reza Ghasemi and Behzad Alibakhshi—are being tried in the same court session as Heydari. It appears they were arrested for allegedly participating in protests in the province in January 2018.
Other civil rights activists summoned in connection with the protests who were interrogated by the Intelligence Ministry’s office in Shazand include Bijan Niyou, Alireza Lak, Neda Yousefi, Davoud Rahimi, Ghodrat Abdi, David Fadaei, Saman Gilani, Borzou Jafarifar, Vahid Moradi, Mehdi Rahimi, Mohammad Abedi and Javad Mahmoudi.
“They have pressed heavy charges against us that are false and we will defend our right to hold lawful protests guaranteed by the Constitution,” Najafi said. “The criminals are those who want to stop us from exercising our rights.”