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January 24, 2024

Statement of ABA President Mary Smith RE: International Day of the Endangered Lawyer

CHICAGO, Jan. 24, 2024 — The American Bar Association stands in solidarity with the global community in observing the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer. We ask the legal community to join us in centering on the courageous legal professionals who work tirelessly to uphold the rule of law and champion human rights at considerable risk to their own safety. 

The focus for 2024 is the alarming situation in Iran. Since September 2022, some 66 lawyers have been arrested and detained for defending the thousands held by Iranian security forces during human rights protests, according to a joint U.N. statement. The ABA echoes the profound alarm expressed by U.N. Special Rapporteurs Javaid Rehman and Margaret Satterthwaite, who outlined the pattern of oppression faced by Iranian lawyers: “... Without the protection provided by an independent Bar Association, they are extremely vulnerable to various attacks and to restrictions on their ability to exercise their profession, especially from State authorities.” This includes arrests, extended pretrial detention, unfair trials, harsh prison sentences, mistreatment and broader threats to the independence of the judiciary.

These grave risks are starkly exemplified in the case of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a distinguished recipient of the ABA’s Eleanor Roosevelt Prize for Global Human Rights Advancement. Sotoudeh has been unjustly sentenced to 38 years in prison for her activities in defense of human rights, including her representation of women who protested against Iran’s mandatory hijab law, a distressing indication of the extreme dangers legal advocates in Iran face.

This issue is not confined to Iran. Globally, lawyers face harassment, arrest and even physical harm in their quest to advance the rule of law. Within the U.S., we are witnessing a troubling increase in lawyers, judges and their staff encountering intimidation and threats of violence for simply fulfilling their professional responsibilities. This is unacceptable and demands our collective attention and action. 

The American Bar Association calls on all governments to protect and uphold the fundamental rights and independence of legal professionals in Iran and around the world. We urge them to note the U.N. Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which ensure that lawyers can execute their professional functions free from intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference. 

We honor the indomitable spirit and bravery of lawyers in Iran and around the world who valiantly fight for the rights of the oppressed and we implore all members of the legal community to support these heroic individuals in any way possible. Together, we reaffirm our commitment to a world where justice prevails, and the safety and freedom of legal professionals are steadfastly protected. 

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on X (formerly Twitter) @ABANews.