(Photo: REUTERS/Raheb Homavand)
Reports from various human rights organizations Tuesday indicate that Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, the human rights lawyer responsible for defending Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, has started serving a nine-year prison sentence for allegedly acting against national security and spreading propaganda.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which closely followed Pastor Nadarkhani's court case and is likewise following Dadkhah's case, says that because Dadkhah represents his clients free of charge, he is being accused of "aiding and abetting" in the alleged crimes of his clients.
"In a world where persecution on the basis of faith is escalating, we must also stand with those who defend our fundamental freedoms," Tiffany Barrans, International Legal Director for the ACLJ, told The Christian Post in an emailed statement. "As the world awakened to the realities of religious persecution in Iran when the masses fought for Pastor Youcef's freedom, we must now shift our attention to defend those who defend the persecuted."
"Mr. Dadkhah's recent imprisonment represents how the Iranian regime is frightened by those who stand for justice," she concluded.
A spokesman for Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, spoke out Tuesday in Geneva against Dadkhah's imprisonment, saying that his jail sentence signifies a "severe clampdown" on journalists and human rights advocates in Iran.
In his statement, spokesman Rupert Colville confirmed that Dadkhah, according to Iranian officials, was arrested for "membership in an association seeking to overthrow the government and propaganda against the system."
"The case against him is widely believed to be linked to his work as a human rights defender," Colville told reporters, according to The New York Times.
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International also released a statement Tuesday urging Iran to immediately release Dadkhah.
"Mohammad Ali Dadkhah and other human rights defenders should be encouraged and supported in their lawful and important work instead of being persecuted for their activism," Ann Harrison, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Program Director at Amnesty International, said in a press release.
"The continued harassment and punitive measures leveled against them and others with dissenting points of view are yet another nail in the coffin of Iran's commitment to upholding its international human rights obligations," she added.
Dadkhah's sentence was delivered last month, when a local judge informed him he would be imprisoned for nine years due to "acting against the national security, spreading propaganda against the regime and keeping banned books at home."
Dadkhah is a one of the few lawyers in Iran daring enough to legally represent those fighting human rights court cases.
He, along with other human rights lawyers and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, founded the now-banned Center for the Defense of Human Rights.
Dadkhah has previously defended numerous religious prisoners, including Nadarkhani, who was released in September after a three-year prison sentence for apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims. The attorney has also defended 12 Christians who were arrested on Easter Sunday this past year in Iran.
Dadkhah is being held in the infamously cruel Evin prison in Iran in the political prisoner ward.
According to the ACLJ, Dadkhah has remained in a cell with 22 other prisoners since his arrest on Saturday, Sept. 29. When sources close to the ACLJ spoke with Dadkhah, the human rights lawyer hesitated before confirming that he was being treated well by prison guards.
"We know that when he was first detained three years ago he was not treated well by his Iranian captors," the ACLJ said in a statement.