Iranian League for Defense of Human Rights; International Federation for Human Rights
Karim Lahidji has been a human rights activist since 1958, while he was attending Tehran University Law School. During his years at the Law School, he was twice arrested and imprisoned for publicly defending the right to free expression and political dissent.
Shortly after obtaining the license to practice law, Ms. Lahidji joined a group of colleagues to establish the Progressive Lawyers Group. The purpose of this group was to demand independence of lawyers from the state, particularly in their work on behalf of individuals or groups determined to create professional or civic associations.
In early 1970s, Mr. Lahidji traveled to Europe and established contact with Amnesty International, International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the International Federation of for Human Rights. The purpose of these contacts was to expose the abuses of human rights in Iran and mobilize international support for Iran’s human rights activists.
During the 1970s, Mr. Lahidji played a discrete but central role in persuading a number of international personalities to travel to Iran and raise questions about the treatment of political prisoners. It was partly due to his efforts that in 1975 the Iranian government felt compelled to sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and permit the International Red Cross to visit Iran’s prisons. As a result of this development, Iran’s political prisoners were permitted to choose their own council and Mr. Lahidji became a defense lawyer for a number of prominent political dissidents who were put on trial in either military or civilian courts.
In 1977, Mr. Lahidji took advantage of the relative political opening in Iran and established the Iranian Association of Jurists (IAJ). A primary goal of this initiative was to promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the society at large. 150 lawyers, judges and law professors joined the organization and took part in a series of lectures and seminars for the purpose of educating the general public about the vital importance human rights protection in a modernizing society.
In 1978, human rights activities in Iran became more daring and vocal. As a result, the state security forces attacked Mr. Lahidji physically and injured him so badly that he was hospitalized. Mr. William Butler, Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists, visited Mr. Lahidji in the hospital and tried to get assurance from Iran’s government to protect his safety.
After the fall of the Pahlavi monarchy in 1979, Mr. Lahidji and his colleagues in IAJ were virtually the first Iranians to point out to the danger of demonizing the critics of the revolution and using violent rhetoric to provoke the populace against them. They demanded open trial for the accused former officials and warned the authorities of the legal and political consequences of allowing vengefulness to dictate the treatment of former public officials. In the early period of the revolutionary regime, Mr. Lahidji visited a number of jailed former officials and prepared a report about the circumstances of their incarceration for the Ministry of Justice.
At the risk of endangering his own safety, Mr. Lahidji lost no time to condemn the executions that followed the 1979 show trials of the Islamic revolutionary courts. He even volunteered to defend two prominent individuals who had been accused of being involved in counterrevolutionary conspiracy. During the same period, Mr. Lahidji continued his human rights advocacy through public speaking and writing journalistic commentary.
Thus, in May 1981, Mr. Lahidji decided to go into hiding. The security forces attacked his house and confiscated his papers and arrested his fifteen-year old son. They also froze his bank account and prohibited him from selling his possessions, including his house.
In March 1982, Mr. Lahidji fled (was smuggles out of) Iran via Kurdistan and went to Paris, France to begin his life of exile. Six months later his wife and two children joined him. Once settled in Paris, he invited a group of Iranian exiles in France to establish a new organization, the League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI), in order to expose the Islamic Republic’s human rights record and publicize the danger facing Iran’s political dissidents at home. In 1984, LDDHI joined the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and took some initiatives to expand its activities throughout Europe and North America.
Over the past years, LDDHI has had a steady and influential presence in the international human rights community and Mr. Lahidji’s name has become virtually synonymous with the League. He regularly participates in a variety of non-governmental meetings and conferences to promote the objectives of the League and provide information and analysis about the situation of human rights in Iran. He also articles for a number of Persian publications in exile. His books and essays address a variety of human rights issues, including torture of political prisoners, gender and minority religious discrimination.
In 1990, Mr. Lahidji was a recipient of Human Rights Watch award for outstanding monitors of human rights in the world. He is also vice-president of the International Federation of Human Rights since 1998, elected in five consecutive congress of this NGO.