Skip to main content

Attorney in stoning case seeks asylum as client awaits verdict

By the CNN Wire Staff
Sakineh Mohammedie Ashtiani faces death by stoning for allegedly commiting adultery.
Sakineh Mohammedie Ashtiani faces death by stoning for allegedly commiting adultery.
  • Prominent human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei is being held in Turkey
  • He is seeking asylum, while his wife is held in an Iranian jail
  • Mostafaei helped bring attention to case of woman who was to be stoned

(CNN) -- He sits in a detention cell in Turkey as an Iranian court prepares to render a final verdict -- possibly Thursday -- in the case of his client, Sakineh Mohammedie Ashtiani, sentenced to death by stoning in Iran for allegedly committing adultery.

But Mohammad Mostafaei, a prominent human rights lawyer who helped launch a worldwide campaign to clear Ashtiani, has much more on his mind. More than 1,000 miles away, his wife is in a cell too -- in Iran's notorious Evin prison.

"You know, I do not know what the future holds at the moment. Either the government of Turkey is going to report me back to Iran, or hopefully I can gain asylum in a third country," Mostafaei said in a CNN interview. "I am not sure what will happen to me."

Mostafaei went into hiding July 24 after a lengthy interrogation at Evin prison. The same day, rallies were being held worldwide to draw attention to the Ashtiani case.

His wife and brother-in-law were reportedly arrested that night at his office in Tehran as they tried to gather his belongings.

The Iranian authorities "told me, 'If you don't turn yourself in, we will not let your family go,'" Mostafaei said. "I made a decision, after I saw that they were still going to arrest me and mistreat me, that I must leave Iran. It was a very hard decision."

The Iranian government has since released Mostafaei's brother-in-law, but human rights groups said they are holding his wife as collateral until he returns.

Once the authorities in Iran realize I have done nothing wrong or illegal, they will have no choice but to free my wife.
--Lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei

"Once the authorities in Iran realize I have done nothing wrong or illegal, they will have no choice but to free my wife," he said. "She has also done nothing wrong. I am hoping for that outcome."

Mostafaei was being held Thursday at a detention center in Istanbul, Turkey, where he has requested asylum, said Metin Corabatir, a representative in Turkey for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. He allegedly entered the country with improper documentation, the agency said.

It's a charge Mostafaei denies. He says his passport was his own and is valid. Mostafaei also said he has a Norwegian travel visa that he received from the embassy in Tehran some time ago.

Turkey does not require visas for citizens from neighboring Iran to enter the country. As a result, it is the first place hundreds of Iranians fled to after the Iranian government cracked down on opposition activists and critics over the past year.

Human rights groups are urging officials to grant Mostafaei's asylum request because they say he could be in grave danger if he is forced to return to Iran.

There is no word yet on whether any nation is willing to accept him.

Mostafaei said he met with officials from the Norwegian embassy on Tuesday. "They had me fill out political asylum forms so they could arrange for me to go to Norway," he said.

"The sooner I can leave this country (Turkey) the sooner I think my wife will be freed," Mostafaei said. "The government of Turkey must act fast and help me with my case. The arrangements need to be made so I can leave Turkey and go to another country."

In a now widely-circulated open letter reportedly penned by Mostafaei and posted on the Internet, the lawyer accused Iranian authorities of holding his wife "hostage." He also explained why he made the painful choice of leaving his wife behind.

"Despite the arrest of the person I love most in my life, I decided not to ever set foot in a judicial office where the interrogators do not abide by any basic laws," he wrote.

"Hostage taking is never legal," Mostafaei said. "I decided not to appear unless the interrogator's office tries hard enough to come and arrest me in my silo that I have built for myself."

Mostafaei was asked by CNN in early July if he was worried about his safety after bringing so much attention to Ashtiani, who was convicted of adultery in 2006 and condemned to die by the brutal method of stoning.

Mostafaei told CNN that he knew the risks -- he had been detained briefly after Iran's post-election turmoil in June 2009 -- but that would not stop him fighting for human rights. But it was that very fight that forced him to flee the country he calls home.

As part of that open letter, Mostafaei cried out to the Iranian government -- and to God -- for the strange twist in his fate.

"For the past few years all my thoughts have been towards saving people who did not deserve to die." he wrote. "I was so occupied with saving these people that I hardly got to see my dear wife and daughter. ... And for someone who has always worked towards justice and the interests of the Islamic Republic, is this the way I am paid back for my God-loving and human-loving actions?"

"I leave you and your interrogator at the mercy of God, the creator," he continued. "I hope that you won't let my child cry for her mother, not eating food and wanting her mother back. She needs to hug her mother. If through this separation from her mother she gets hurt, it's a sin that you have committed."

The Iranian government has not commented on the detention of Mostafaei's wife.

Meanwhile, human rights activists are urging the international community not to forget Ashtiani, who may soon die -- or the man who tried to set her free.

CNN's Mitra Mobasherat, Gena Somra, Ivan Watson and Moni Basu contributed to this report.