A prominent lawyer who worked on the case of a Christian pastor on death row in Iran for apostasy, which made headlines around the world, has been sentenced to nine years in jail.
Speaking to the Guardian from Tehran, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said he had also been banned from teaching at universities or practicing law for an extra 10 years.
"I have been convicted of acting against the national security, spreading propaganda against the regime and keeping banned books at home," he said. Iranian authorities have used such vague charges in recent years to incriminate activists and lawyers in recent years.
Dadkhah has represented several political and human rights activists jailed in the aftermath of the country's 2009 disputed elections. He has also been the lawyer of the 32-year-old Yusuf Naderkhani, whose sentencing to death for apostasy triggered an international outcry.
"I was in a court in Tehran defending one of my clients, Davoud Arjangi, a jailed political activist on death row when the judge told me that my own sentence has been approved and I will be shortly summoned to jail to serve the nine-year sentence," he told the Guardian.
Among Dadkhah's clients is an ailing Iranian veteran politician, Ebrahim Yazdi who is known as Iran's oldest political prisoner. Yazdi has been sentenced to eight years for "cooperating with the Freedom Movement of Iran party," a banned opposition group he headed.
Other prominent Iranian lawyers have also been sentenced to lengthy prison terms including Abdolfattah Soltani who was given an 18-years sentence in March. Like Soltani, Dadkhah was a colleague of Iranian Nobel Peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi who fled the country in 2009 in fear of persecution.
Nasrin Sotoudeh, another acclaimed lawyer whose work against juvenile executions in Iran has been recognised internationally is also behind bars in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. Some of the lawyers who have represented their colleagues in jail have also been arrested in recent years.
Dadkhah was associated with Iran's Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC), a rights organisation presided over by Ebadi. Other people involved with DHRC has also been jailed, including the 39-year old Narges Mohammadi.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) on Thursday condemned the sentencing of Dadkhah as well as the systematic harassment by the state against the DHRC members.
"Several DHRC members have recently been subjected to judicial harassment and arbitrary detention, all the more so after the disputed 2009 June presidential election. Mr Dadkhah will be the fifth member of DHRC to be imprisoned," a statement said.
"We fear that the harassment against DHRC and attempts to silence its members will continue exponentially", says Souhayr Belhassen, the FIDH President.
"The authorities in Iran are doing their utmost to stifle human rights defenders by imposing heavy sentences of imprisonment, exile, and ban on professional practice. All this is aimed at intimidating the whole society into a deadly silence", adds secretary general of the OMCT, Gerald Staberock.
On a separate incident in Iran, another pastor, Farshid Fathi, 33, became the latest victim of state persecution of Christian converts in Iran after being sentenced to six years in prison by a revolutionary court, Iran Christian News Agency reported.