Mohammad Mostafaie, the human rights lawyer currently defending Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, an Iranian woman who was convicted of adultery and originally sentenced to stoning, is now missing, spurring rumors that he is either in hiding from the government or imprisoned. Mostafaie was questioned by government officials Saturday at the Evin Prison complex and his office in Tehran was ransacked. Also Saturday, protests were held around the world to support “International Sakineh Mohammedie Ashtiani Day.”
After being questioned at Evin Prison, it is unclear what happened to Mostafaie. According to The Guardian, he was asked to return for further questioning, but was set free. A warrant was then issued for his arrest and when he couldn’t be found, officials arrested his wife and brother-in-law, reports The Media Line. It is unclear, however, whether Mostafaie himself is currently in custody.
“Mostafaei writes regularly for Iranian media and his blog and his role in making Iranians aware of the human rights abuses in Iran has made it difficult for the Iranian regime to tolerate him anymore,” Soheila Vahdati, a California-based Iranian activist told the Guardian UK.
Mostafaei has played a prominent role in increasing international scrutiny of Iran, particularly in regards to the practice of execution by stoning. The current case began in 2006 when Ashtiani was convicted of having extramarital relations with two men, who subsequently killed her husband, according to Huliq. While she initially received 99 lashes for adultery, during an appeal of her case, the court sentenced her to death by stoning. Her sentence caused widespread outrage because there is no conclusive evidence that she actually committed a crime. Under international pressure, the Iranian governmentclaimed that Ashtiani would not be stoned, but that her execution “still stands and is definite,” reports CNN.
It is not uncommon for controversial lawyers to be targeted by the Iranian government for political reasons. Dr. Mehrdad Khonsari, Senior Research Consultant at the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, told the Associated Press, “they try to deter this kind of behavior by detaining the lawyers and holding them in prison for a very long time. In the past, in many high profile public cases [if] lawyers were seen to be too active or controversial in the defense of their clients, the regime…arrested the lawyers.”