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IRAN: Wife and brother-in-law of human rights lawyer ‘held hostage’ by authorities

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It would take a legal genius on the order of human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafai to navigate the Kafkaesque legal system that recently condemned his client to death by stoning on charges that are still unclear.

But Mostafai himself has disappeared and his wife and brother-in-law are being ‘held hostage’ by Iranian authorities, according to human rights organizations that monitor Iran.

'[Mostafai’s] whereabouts are unknown right now, but we can confirm that his wife and his brother-in-law were detained on Saturday and are still in custody,’ Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told Babylon & Beyond.

‘The people who detained them have made it clear they will be held until [Mostafai] turns himself in, so in a way it is an act of hostage-taking because there is no judicial process being followed,’ he said.

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Mostafai has made a name for himself taking on high-profile human rights cases in Iran, most recently that of 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a mother of two who was reportedly sentenced to death by stoning for adultery and possibly murder, although the details of the case remain unclear and authorities have issued contradictory statements about it.

Mostafai drummed up international support for Ashtiani by writing a blog about the case and giving a number of critical interviews to the Western press, including the Los Angeles Times.

Authorities, apparently upset at Mostafai’s role in publicizing the case, summoned him for questioning late last week. Soon afterward, a warrant was issued for his arrest, but being unable to locate Mostafai, authorities instead arrested his wife, Fereshteh Halimi, and her brother, Farhad Halimi.

This isn’t the first time Mostafai has run afoul of the government. Iran routinely monitors, harasses and arrests activist lawyers and their families, but the mechanisms for doing so are becoming increasingly opaque and harder to fight, according to Ghaemi.

‘We are facing a chaos in Iran,’ he said. ‘We don’t know who is exactly holding these people, whether it’s the intelligence, military or judicial bodies.’

‘Since the elections, we’ve seen a proliferation of agencies and units that have the power to detain and hold people, but there doesn’t seem to be any centralized control, and that is the biggest fear we have,’ he said. ‘We’re seeing a trend of more and more detentions by groups acting autonomously.’

Iran is routinely criticized for its human rights record and continues to lead the world in executing juvenile offenders. According to the Human Rights House of Iran, the state has executed 19 people in the last month alone, and amputated the hands of five prisoners.

So far, a Facebook page and online petition have been set up calling on international bodies to come to Mostafai’s defense by pressuring Iran to free his family and stop persecuting them.

Meris Lutz in Beirut


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