He was the hope of hundreds of Iranian prisoners condemned to death, and this may have elevated him to the status of number one enemy of Iran's authorities.
Mohammad Mostafaei, 37, has turned into a beloved Tehran attorney and a popular figure among global human rights organizations after saving at least 50 people from certain death, many of them minors. In some cases he was able to mitigate death sentences to long imprisonment terms; in other cases he managed to secure full acquittals.
About 340 people are executed in Iran every year, making the country second only to China. This is why Mostafaei, a married father to a seven-year-old girl, decided to embark on a global campaign against Iran's regime.
Mostafaei's most famous case is that of Sakineh Ashtiani, sentenced to death by stoning after being convicted of adultery and involvement in her husband's murder. Ashtiani denied the charges and argued that she was sentenced to death because she's a woman, yet Iranian authorities insisted on carrying out the sentence. This prompted politicians worldwide to embark on a loud campaign for her acquittal. The Iranian masses also hit the streets carrying her photo.
The pressure worked: Iranian authorities announced that they will suspend the execution for the time being; yet Ashtiani's great victory marked the beginning of a nightmare for her attorney.
"Police forces stormed into my office in Tehran and took everything," Mostafaei said. "All the documents of the clients I defended. The regime is trying to prompt human rights activists to flee Iran; the world must stand up to this."
At his current residence in Oslo, Mostafaei recounts the day where Iranian authorities demanded that he be held for questioning in the wake of the aggressive campaign he led against them. The attorney realized he is running out of time and for two weeks chose to go underground, prompting authorities to boost the pressure and detain his wife, brother-in-law, and father-in-law. They were held as hostages at an Infamous Tehran prison.
'I lost everything'However, the dramatic development in the affair came about a week ago, when Mostafaei managed to flee at the last moment and suddenly appeared in Turkey after a smuggler helped him cross the border.
Mostafaei was detained by Turkish authorities because he entered the country illegally and thrown to jail with heavy-duty prisoners. The Iranian attorney admitted that he fled his country and announced that he will ask for political asylum.
Meanwhile, due fears that Turkish authorities – whose ties with Iran have warmed up as of late – would betray him and extradite him to Tehran, human rights groups again intervened and transferred Mostafaei to Norway, where local authorities are currently looking into his immigration application.
"My great hope is that one day I would be able to return to Iran and do my job," he said. "At this time, the ability to work for my clients had been taken away from me and this means I lost everything. Without this, I don't care whether I'm in heaven or hell."
After Iranian authorities realized they will not be able to nab Mostafaei, they released his brother-in-law and father-in-law; next they also freed his wife, Fereshteh Halimi, after holding her in solitary confinement at the prison's torture chambers.
"I lost my value for the Iranians," Halimi said upon her release. "I may now not see my husband for years, and this thought scares me. The moment I told authorities I did not know where my husband is, they started threatening me; they said that they would hold me in prison for years and I would have to see my daughter growing up alone."
Meanwhile, another Mostafaei client, 18-year-old Ebrahim Hamidi, fears for his life after being condemned to death over acts of sodomy and his sexual preferences; he is expected to be executed in the coming days. Hamidi, who is not a homosexual, was convicted even though recent testimony submitted to the court cleared him of any wrongdoing. He was detained two years ago already, but in recent days judges exploited a loophole that allowed them to convict him even without unequivocal evidence.
"Look at what's happening to my wife and you'll understand all the flaws in Iranian law," Mostafaei said," especially towards people like Ebrahim Hamidi and Sakineh Ashtiani, who are waiting to be executed on the basis of false accusations.
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