Iran Stoning Lawyer Flees as New Client Faces Execution

An Iranian lawyer who helped orchestrate a campaign to stop one of his clients from being stoned to death in Iran has fled, under threat of arrest, to Norway. It has since emerged that a young man he is defending will likely be executed on dubious charges.

Last month a 43-year-old mother of two, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, faced being buried up to her chest and stoned to death on a shaky charge of adultery. Mohammad Mostafaei, 31, a human-rights lawyer in Iran, began a furious campaign to raise awareness of her case. Eventually, others—even Lindsay Lohan—picked up on the story, and Ashtiani was granted a temporary reprieve.

But, according to reports, Mostafaei became a marked man for the embarrassment he'd caused the Iranian government. He was questioned for several hours at the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. He was released but was asked to return. He never did.

His wife and brother-in-law were seized in an effort to persuade him to turn himself in. He told the Associated Press that he'd considered it, but decided to flee because his wife "would never forgive me." Instead, a friend drove him to a point about 20 miles away from the Turkish border. He fled the rest of the way on foot and on horseback. He has now sought asylum in Norway. After weeks in jail without charge, his wife has been released, and he hopes that she and his 7-year-old daughter will be able to join him soon. But he acknowledges the government will likely delay their exit.

"My greatest hope is that I can go back and continue my work in Iran," Mostafaei told reporters in Oslo. "If the Iranian authorities will ensure my rights and safety, I'll go back. Right now, I've lost the ability to work on behalf of my clients. That means I've lost everything. Without that, it doesn't matter whether I'm in heaven or hell."

One of his clients, according to a report in the Guardian today, is already suffering. Ebrahim Hamidi, 18, has been charged with sodomy and sentenced to death under a legal loophole known as "judge's knowledge" that allows a court to convict without conclusive evidence.

Hamidi, who is not gay, according to the Guardian, had apparently confessed under torture and was convicted on the word of another boy who has since admitted he lied as part of a deal to have charges against him dropped. Hamidi had been represented by Mostafaei. "It's shocking that although Hamidi's accuser admitted in a recorded testimony that he had lied, he is still facing execution," he said.

Mostafaei, who is credited with saving as many as 50 people from unjust executions, will keep working on Hamidi's behalf, he has said. But many fear for Hamidi; for Ashtiani, who may still be executed; and—with people like Mostafaei in exile—for justice in Iran.