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Human rights lawyer who fled Iran is reunited with family

By Ivan Watson, CNN
Mohammad Mostafaei specialized in defending Iranians under the age of 18 who have been sentenced to death.
Mohammad Mostafaei specialized in defending Iranians under the age of 18 who have been sentenced to death.
  • Mohammad Mostafaei gained international attention as a lawyer in Iran
  • He defended a 43-year-old woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery
  • He also has defended juveniles sentenced to death in Iran
  • Mostafaei fled Iran in July and was reunited with his wife and daughter Thursday
  • Mohammad Mostafaei
  • Iran
  • Norway

West Tisbury, Massachusetts (CNN) -- A human rights lawyer who defended a woman sentenced to death in Iran for adultery enjoyed a tearful reunion with his wife and daughter Thursday after they flew from Tehran to Oslo, Norway.

It was the first time Mohammad Mostafaei had seen his family since he went into hiding and fled Iran in late July.

"I had a lot of stress, but when I saw my daughter and my wife, I was very happy. I cried," Mostafaei said from Oslo, where he has been granted asylum. "Today was very good for me. I could see them [for the first time] in 40 days."

Mostafaei gained international attention for defending Shakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two who was sentenced to death after being found guilty of committing adultery. He also has worked extensively in Iran defending juveniles sentenced to death.

On the day Mostafaei went into hiding, Iranian authorities detained Mostafaei's wife, Fereshteh Halimi, as well as his brother- and father-in-law.

The two men were released after several days. But Halimi was held in solitary confinement at Tehran's Evin Prison for nearly two weeks.

On July 8, one day after her release, Halimi said Iranian authorities set her free after they learned that Mostafaei had smuggled himself from Iran into neighboring Turkey.

"I think when they found that my husband was out of Iran and they couldn't reach him and I wouldn't be a good hostage any more, that's when they released me," Halimi said last month.

Mostafaei claims that he infuriated Iranian government officials with his outspoken defense of Ashtiani, who was sentenced to death by stoning.

When Mostafaei was detained last month after crossing the border illegally into Turkey, the Norwegian government intervened at the highest level to have him released.

"There is a courageous man who raises cases -- difficult cases -- which the authorities don't like, and he sees himself in a position where he has to flee across a mountain. He sees his wife imprisoned. Well, I think we should wake up and speak out," Jonas Gahr Store, the foreign minister of Norway, said last month.

"The death penalty against juvenile people is an especially bad thing, Iran being among the countries with the most such cases," Store added.

Before fleeing Iran, Mostafaei specialized in defending Iranians under the age of 18 who have been sentenced to death for crimes ranging from murder to sodomy.

Iran ranks second in the world after China for annual executions of prisoners. But according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Iran leads the world for the number of death sentences carried out against juvenile defendants. Human Rights Watch reports that since 2005, the Iranian judiciary has executed dozens of Iranians below the age of 18 who were convicted of crimes.

"I have worked and handled 40 cases so far, and out of these, thank God, 18 were saved," Mostafaei said. "Regrettably, four were hanged. The rest need help."

In 2008 and 2009, four of Mostafaei's juvenile clients were executed. They include Delara Darabi, who was hanged May 1, 2009, for a murder allegedly committed when she was 17 years old, and Behnoud Shojai, executed October 11 for stabbing another teenager to death when he was 17 years old.

Mostafaei said he hopes to continue his human rights work from exile in Europe. He added that for the time being, he feels he cannot return to Iran, for fear of being arrested.