Amnesty urges Iran to free detained rights lawyer

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Iran must immediately free Abdolfattah Soltani, a prominent human rights lawyer rearrested at the weekend after spending months behind bars between 2005 and 2009, Amnesty International said on Monday.

Soltani, a co-founder of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders along with Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and others, was arrested Saturday at a prosecutor's office in Tehran, the London-based rights watchdog said.

His wife said that four security officials then escorted him to his home, where they confiscated computers and documents before taking him away, Amnesty added.

"Abdolfattah Soltani is one of the bravest human rights defenders in Iran. He has represented defendants in some of the most controversial human rights cases for over a decade, refusing to bow to pressure from the Iranian authorities," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director.

"Now he is again paying the price for that commitment," he said in a statement.

The Ebadi centre is an outspoken critic of the human rights situation in Iran and has defended scores of prisoners of conscience, student activists and dissidents in recent years.

It has come under mounting pressure since its office was shut down in a police raid in December 2008.

Soltani, previously recognised by Amnesty as a prisoner of conscience detained solely for his work, has been arrested several times in the past.

In 2005, he spent seven months behind bars, but was eventually acquitted of all charges, Amnesty said.

He also spent two months in detention in 2009, a week after the June 12 presidential polls, won by hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad amid opposition allegations of fraud.

In 2008, the German city of Nuremberg gave Soltani a prestigious human rights award, but he was prevented from traveling there by an Iranian ban.

Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel peace prize winner, who is currently outside Iran, has called for a fresh election under UN surveillance to end violence in Iran and urged UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to visit the Islamic republic.

She has also urged Iranian authorities to halt the "show trials" of political opponents, release detainees, end censorship and compensate victims of government violence.

© 2011 AFP

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