George Gebbie: Faculty of Advocates Criminal Bar Association stands in solidarity with Iranian lawyer
George Gebbie highlights injustices in Iran and warns that our own government is not immune to the temptations of power.
On 16th September 2022, a young woman died in a hospital in Tehran, Iran. Her name was Mahsa Amini. She had been arrested by the religious morality police of that country’s government. Her crime? Allegedly not wearing a headscarf in accordance with government standards.
Her death sparked a wildfire of protest across Iran and the globe by people outraged by her death. Yet the essential cause of this explosion of protest can be seen, not as the fact of her death but rather the fact that those officials responsible for her arrest and mistreatment would not be held accountable for it. They would be supported and protected by the state apparatus of which they formed part.
The proof of this is to be found in the treatment of another Iranian citizen, the lawyer who represented Mahsa’s family in seeking to hold those responsible to account. His name is Saleh Nikbakht and his alleged crime is reported as “propaganda against the system” or as his lawyer described it, “[criticising] the running of the country by the authorities”. In other words, doing his job.
Speaking truth to power is what lawyers do. Or rather, it’s what they are expected to do. One thing is true about this across the countries of the world. Those in power don’t like it. They want to hinder it and, if they can, they want to control it.
Most countries in the world have governments. They have police. They have courts. They have laws. Yet you wouldn’t want to live in most countries. Why? Because none of these things protects you and your loved ones from abuse. Only countries with lawyers, who are willing and able to do this job, can offer true freedom and quality of life to those who live there. There are many ways countries can try to prevent lawyers from protecting people. They can intimidate and neutralise them. In Iran it seems that this is done by prosecuting the lawyers themselves for doing their job.
It can also be done by stealth, imposing rule changes that remove legal protections from ordinary people and prohibiting their lawyers from saying anything about this on pain of threat of punishment. It can even be done by taking control of the legal profession itself, so that, though you seem to have rights, those in power can be sure that those who would defend them will not be able to become lawyers or practise law properly if they do.
If a product does not do “what it says on the tin” it is of no use. The same goes for the legal profession. For some 500 years, lawyers in Scotland have spoken truth to power in criminal cases. Today there are moves afoot to shackle them. Those shackles are forged of attacks on jury trials, on the rules of evidence and control of the legal profession.
Unlike in Iran, the shackles may not be made of steel but be under no illusion, those shackles are being forged to protect those in power. If it were not so there would be no need to forge them.
For these reasons, the Faculty of Advocates Criminal Bar Association stands in solidarity with colleagues under threat wherever they may be, protests the treatment of Saleh Nikbakht.
And so should you.