By Emma Tallon.
Photo from journalducameroun.com
Death of Iranian Activist Vahid Sayadi Nasiri: The Right to Counsel and Global Reaction
What are the consequences of a country lacking a vital human right? Many judicial systems worldwide recognize the “right to counsel,” or the right of a defendant to access a lawyer either independently or through government support (Appleman).” It is also referred to as a “right to free trial (Appleman).” This is regarded as a fundamental component of citizenship in Western liberal democracies and it is something we as fortunate citizens of a nation that recognizes this right often take for advantage. Of course, the “right to counsel” is not a fundamental component of all judicial systems worldwide (Appleman). The absence of the right to counsel has domestic effects as well as global ramifications. This issue was illustrated in the case of Iranian political activist, Vahid Sayadi Nasiri, and his experience with the Iranian justice system. 37-year-old Nasiri was originally arrested and sentenced sentenced to eight years in September of 2015. He was allegedly arrested due to posts on his Facebook regarding the Iranian government. The Iran Human Rights Monitor reported that he was accused of insulting the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “insulting Islamic sanctities,” and spreading so-called “propaganda against the state,” (Nathan).. After serving two-and-a-half years behind bars, Nasiri was pardoned and released early. However, he was arrested once again five months later in August on the previous charges.
Sayadi Nasiri began his hunger strike in October of 2018 at Qom Prison in Iran. He was protesting the conditions of his imprisonment broadly, the refusal of the “right to counsel,” and the frequent attacks he suffered at the hands of other inmates. Qom Prison is widely recognised as being particularly vicious and cruel. For example, the Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) reported 29 executions in one week at Qom Prison in 2013. It was reported that Sayadi Nasiri was allegedly harassed at the Qom Prison by operatives associated with the Iranian regime. The Iran Human Rights Monitor stated that Nasiri was attacked in May 2017 by a fellow prisoner and again in February (Iran HRM). Nasiri argued that his detention alongside regular prisoners was a violation of Iran’s separation of crimes. According to his sister, Elaheh Sayadi Nasiri, he requested to be transferred to Evin Prison (Iran HRM). However, his request was denied. A statement by the United States-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran stated that Nasiri died on December 12th, 2018 at a hospital in Qom due to liver disease caused by his prolonged hunger strike (Iran HRM).
What has become clear with the death of Sayadi Nasiri is that the detention of journalists and those who express dissent on social media is a common occurrence in Iran. In recent years, Iran has detained countless journalists and social media activists, many of whom have gone into exile (Nathan). In November of 2018, Reporters Without Borders, an international non-profit that calls for political advocacy on issues regarding freedom of information and of the press, stated that the Iranian government had commenced a new attack on journalists (Nathan). Of those journalists, numerous had been interrogated and three arrested in connection with social media posts that were deemed problematic. However, the Iranian government rejects the critique from Reporters Without Borders (Nathan).
What is even more pressing regarding the death of Sayadi Nasiri is the international feedback. The French Foreign Ministry advised Iran to “abide by its political commitments, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (RFE/RL)” regarding the death of Nasiri. The French Foreign Ministry later stated that they were “dismayed to learn of the death in the detention” (RFE/RL). Similarly, the United States condemned Nasiri’s death, asserting that he was “just one of the many more unjustly detained prisoners held at the mercy of the Iranian’s regime whims” (RFR/RL). The United States State Department also advised potential travelers to Iran that the “Iranian authorities continue to unjustly detain and imprison U.S. citizens, including students, journalists, business travelers, and academics, on the charges of espionage and posing a threat to national security” (Steer). It has become clear to many that the treatment of Nasiri was a violation of human rights. However, what remains to be seen is the outcome that the international realm will have on the Iranian government and whether or not a movement towards greater human rights will materialize.
Appleman, Laura. “The Community Right to Counsel.” Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law, vol.
17, no. 1. 2012.
Iran HRM. “Iranian Political Prisoner Dies After 60 days on Hunger Strike.” Iran: Human Rights
Monitor. December 2018.
Nathan, Fred. “Activist jailed for ‘insulting Islam’ on social media dies aged 37 in Iranian
prison.” Mirror Online. December 2018.
RFE/RL. “France ‘Dismayed’ by Death of Iranian Activist.” Radio Free Europe. December
Steer, George. “Imprisoned Iranian Activist Dies After 60-Day Hunger Strike.” TIME. December