Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hated figure leaves Revolutionary Court as regime continues cosmetic facelift

A notorious judge has been dismissed and his department has been merged into the Revolutionary Court.

The departure of Judge Hassan Haddad, deputy prosecutor for security affairs, was announced by Hossein Lotfi, the new presiding judge of the Revolutionary Court, last week as he took over the reigns from Hojjatoleslam Assadollah Mobasheri.

Hassan Haddad had long been one of the key repressive tools of the regime within the judiciary. Shunning the limelight (the photo to the right is one of the rare ones of him and was released by the group Human Rights Activists of Iran), Haddad has tried to remain an enigmatic and behind-the-scenes figure. Even the name he has used for years is an alias. His real name is Hassan Zareh Dehnavi.

An interrogator/torturer in Evin prison in the 1980s, he was relieved of his functions in 1989 for 'financial misconduct' and 'questionable relations with several prisoners.' This did not prevent officials from transferring him to the Enforcement Staff of the Imam's Decree, a financial behemoth fronting as a foundation, as an inspector of confiscated property.

In the late 1990s, he became head of the 26th branch of the Revolutionary Court, in charge of trying drug and antiquities traffickers. He was given more sensitive cases, for example that of dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, towards the end of that decade. He was named deputy prosecutor for security affairs in 2006.

Most recently, he has been involved in the prosecution of seven Baha'is who face the death penalty on charges of spying for Israel. He is held responsible for the death in custody of Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi. He was involved in the prosecution of journalist Roxana Saberi, researcher Haleh Esfandiari, and Kian Tajbakhsh. Other cases that he directed include those against student leaders Ali Nikounesbati and Ali Azizi, striking workers of the Tehran transit company including the union's leader Mansour Osanlou, and newspaper editor Heshmatollah Tabarzadi.

As deputy prosecutor for security affairs, Haddad handled 'national security' cases, a catchall phrase used to prosecute anyone considered a threat to the regime. 'National security' cases, known as political cases in most of the world, fall under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Court.

Revolutionary Court Presiding Judge Hossein Lotfi had not announced Haddad's successor last week, an omission which had puzzled observers. However, newly-appointed Tehran Prosecutor Jafari Dolatabadi said at a ceremony yesterday that the deputy prosecutor for security affairs' office would be merged into the General and Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office.

Hadded had been the deputy of another hated judicial figure, former Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, who was also recently dismissed. Mortazavi however was reassigned as Deputy Prosecutor General, a relative promotion which many analysts viewed as a way to sideline him at a desk job with no influence over the prosecution of defendants. Judge Haddad's new functions have not been declared.

The regime has replaced many figures linked to the recent crackdown and the repression of the past decade. But the steps appear to be cosmetic and have not affected the repressive tilt of the Islamic Republic. If anything, the moves seem to be geared towards streamlining the regime. For example, Basij commander Hassan Taeb was recently moved from the command of the Basij forces to that of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) intelligence unit, which many analysts believe is fast replacing the civilian- and Majlis-controlled Intelligence Ministry as the country's most powerful security body. Taeb was subsequently replaced at the Basij by IRGC General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, no less of a zealot than Taeb, but with the advantage of being relatively unknown to the general public. The Basij has now been merged into the ground forces of the IRGC.

The changes at the Revolutionary Court notwithstanding, protesters continue to be sentenced to death, the execution of juvenile offenders are railroaded through the judiciary, and dozens of political prisoners still languish in prison without access to their lawyers. And this week, Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei even went so far as to say in an interview that opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi would soon be brought to justice.

Steps away from execution and still uninformed

Rooz online published an interview with prominent human rights lawyer and jurist Nasrin Sotoudeh on Thursday. Sotoudeh has represented numerous women's rights activists for the Campaign for One Million Signatures, which seeks to abrogate gender-discriminatory laws in Iran. She has also been a tireless defender of children's rights and juvenile offenders sentenced to death. Arash Rahmanipour, one of the defendants in the regime's show trials, is her client and it is believed that he has been sentenced to hang. Fereshteh Ghazi conducted this interview. The following is a translation of the full article:

While a fifth death sentence has reportedly been delivered to a defendant in the second session of the show trials of post-election protesters, these verdicts have yet to be conveyed to some defendants and their families.

We spoke to Nasrin Sotoudeh, Arash Rahmanipour's lawyer, about this situation. While confirming that no order for capital punishment has been communicated to her client, she said, 'The court-appointed lawyer told Arash's father that such a ruling has been issued.'

Dr. Mohammad Seifzadeh, Hamed Rouhinejad's lawyer, had previously announced that no official death sentence had been conveyed to his client.

The interview with Nasrin Sotoudeh follows.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, Arash Rahmanipour's lawyer, told Rouz that Mr. Rahmanipour's court-appointed lawyer has given news of his death sentence, but that the ruling which has apparently been issued to the court-appointed lawyer has yet to be shown to Mr. Rahmanipour or his family.

She added: 'My client's name was not among those released by the head of public relations for Tehran's judiciary, but we believe that the person identified as 'A.P.' is my client. (NB Over the weekend, the Iranian Students News Agency released an article quoting judiciary sources who spoke of three death sentences handed out to 'M.Z., A.P., and N.A.') The court-appointed lawyer told Arash's father that Arash's death sentence has been issued. My client has yet to receive such a ruling.'

'Despite numerous applications by me and Arash's family, the court has refused to recognize my power of attorney,' said Sotoudeh. 'There are shocking facts in Mr. Rahmanipour's case file. He was arrested in the first month of the Iranian year (NB March 21 - April 20), and he has nothing to do with the election or the post-election events. They tried to create fear when he was arrested and even arrested his pregnant sister. She was released after several days, but she unfortunately lost her child.'

She added, 'On the day of the show trial, his father met with Arash and told him that I had accepted to represent him. He asked his son to request an adjournment from the court so I could study his case. But as soon as he said this, six security officers approached him and said, Either you get your son to confess right now, or we'll arrest you too.'

According to this jurist, her client admitted to acts he had not committed after he was promised leniency if he confessed and cooperated with the agents.

'The harrassment and arrest of various members of my client's family, confessions to acts which were not committed, and the way his sister was treated, are an indication of the kind of pressure exerted on Arash Rahmanipour who is only 19,' Sotoudeh said.

Sotoudeh said that her client is accused of having links to the Royalist Organization (NB The Anjomaneh Padeshahi, based in the United States). She added, 'Mr. Rahmanipour has had no operational activity within this organization.'

Sotoudeh said that the judge has refused to release two of her other clients, Issa Saharkhiz and Atefeh Nabavi, on bail. (NB Journalist Issa Saharkhiz was arrested on July 4, 2009. Atefeh Nabavi is an activist in the field of education. She was arrested on June 15, 2009.)