|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The noble Lord said: My Lords, on 27th March, in a debate in your Lordships' House, considerable dismay was expressed by noble Lords about the decision to place the Iranian resistance movement on the list of proscribed organisations. In moving the Motion on the Order Paper today, it is not my purpose to revisit those arguments, to which we shall doubtless return via the appeals procedure and the courts in due course.
Some months ago, and prior to the Home Secretary's order, I first sought to raise the abuse of human rights in Iran and Her Majesty's Government's policy towards that country. I am glad to have secured a place in the ballot, enabling me to do so today.
This is a timely debate, especially in the light of the decision last Friday by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to keep Iran under annual review for human rights violations and also in the light of the assessment by the Special Envoy, Professor Maurice Copithorne, that there are,
Today's debate takes place just days after Iran fired 77 scud missiles at camps occupied by members of the Iranian resistance, some of which missed their target, killing civilians nearby. I place my remarks in the context of a statement made by the Foreign Secretary, Mr Robin Cook, published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Wednesday 28th March, when he took as his theme human rights in foreign policy. He said:
Taken at its face value, I wholeheartedly endorse those sentiments, but measured against Her Majesty's Government's policy towards Iran--a country that intriguingly and perhaps oddly, to use the Foreign Secretary's word, is not referred to at all in Mr Cook's statement--I argue that we have been too concerned with normalising relations. Concern for commercial gain appears to be greater than concern for continuing violations of human rights.
Nor is it the case that we are impotent in the face of such abuses. Mr Cook rightly observed that the reality is that we cannot do everything, but that does not free us from our duty to do what we can. Even if we were to set aside questions of duty and principle, I do not believe that it would be in the long-term interest of the United Kingdom to hitch ourselves to the present religious dictatorship that, as in the time of the Shah, will ultimately be the losing side.
Contrary to what is frequently said, dialogue with the Iranian regime has not improved the human rights situation--quite the reverse. A few weeks ago Abbs-Ali Alizahdeh, a senior judicial official, was received at Geneva. On his return to Iran he was even more emboldened in defending the so-called retribution law, which involves punishments such as amputation and eye gouging.
I want to place before your Lordships' House examples of past and present atrocities which throw considerable doubt on the claim that this is a regime that we should encourage or one with which we should
Perhaps I can illustrate my argument with examples of persecution against political dissidents, religious minorities and women. I am indebted to the BBC World Service which states in a briefing note that,
The BBC's Iranian affairs analyst, Sadeq Saba, also recently reported on what was described as "horrifying stories" of political dissidents jailed in the notorious Evin prison, north of Tehran. One such account concerned the feminist lawyer, Mehrangiz Kar, who spent 53 days in Evin prison for taking part in the German conference, to which I have referred. Mrs Kar describes how filthy her solitary cell was:
The dissident cleric, Mohsen Kadivar, has recently served an 18-month prison sentence for criticising the Iranian supreme leader. He says that prisoners are subjected to the cruellest types of treatment. He believes that the worst psychological torture for a political prisoner is when he is put in a cell with common criminals. But he is optimistic about the future. He says:
The suppression of free speech by alleged reformers has led to the closure of 23 publications and to the jamming of the satellite television programme "Simayeh Azadi". That censorship is totally contrary to international agreements, but it has occurred with barely a murmur of protest. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House whether we have made a demarche or raised these violations in any international forum? I hope in reply that she will spell out the specifics of any remonstration or protest that we have made.
Perhaps the journalists condemned to prison may in one respect be regarded as fortunate. Last month, on the eve of the Iranian new year, the Mullahs' regime publicly hanged five people, bringing to 75 the number of people executed or sentenced to death since January 2001. At least 13 of those victims were publicly stoned to death. That is double the number for the same period last year, so any argument that the situation is improving is clearly erroneous.
As many Peers know, in one year alone, in 1988, 30,000 political prisoners were butchered, an atrocity that has never once been condemned by Khatami. Indeed, as the Sunday Telegraph reported on 4th February, it is alleged that he was complicit in the massacre. It also begs a question, which I put to the Minister, as to whether we are pressing for those responsible to be tried for crimes against humanity. Amnesty International points out that under President Khatami, the reformer, there have been 800 executions. The question for us is whether such a regime is one in which we should be investing morally and politically.
Last week, I received a beautiful and moving card from Laila Jazayeri, the director of the Association of Iranian Women in the UK. The card was designed and painted by a political prisoner who spent 12 years in Iranian goals. He had been a talented university student studying physics. His time in prison has left him paralysed, able to use only his hands and parts of his upper body. The tragic personal story of Behrooz is the story of continued suffering and pain of countless numbers of Iranian people.
I said that I would refer also to the persecution of religious minorities. Since the Khomeni revolution seven Christian leaders have been martyred; churches have been closed down; bible printing and Christian bookshops are banned; evangelising is illegal; and the
During the past decade, the execution of Mehdi Dibaj, the murder of the Reverend Tateos Michaelian who was the President of the Council of Protestant Churches in Iran, and the assassination of Bishop Haik Hovespision-Mehr have traumatised this very vulnerable minority. Human Rights Watch reported that,
Christians are not the only ones who have suffered. There have been reports of the persecution of Baha'is, of Suni Muslims and of Zoroastrians. Yesterday I received a letter from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. It has drawn attention to the plight of Iranian Jews. A letter from Simon Plosker, Public Affairs Officer, concerns 10 Iranian Jews now in goal. Thirteen were originally held on charges of espionage on behalf of Israel and the United States; charges which both those countries have consistently refuted. However, the fact is that under Iranian law any contact whatever with Israel is defined as "espionage" and the maximum penalty is the death penalty.
The spurious nature of these charges and their possible anti-Semitic basis are borne out by the professions of the accused; Hebrew teachers, Jewish community leaders, circumcisers, ritual slaughterers, a Jewish cemetery attendant and a 16 year-old boy. Concern regarding the fate of these Jews was acute in the light of pervious experience. After all, two Jews were executed in 1997 on espionage charges and in 1998 a 60 year-old man was executed on vague charges of being a Zionist agent.
On 21st September 2000, Jewish prisoners who had been imprisoned were taken to the Shiraz Court of Appeal and the verdict was given. The outcome was that they are to remain in prison for terms ranging from two to nine years. The Board of Deputies comments that despite claims by Iranian officials that Iran's judicial branch was "independent", in early September the judiciary announced a delay, reportedly to provide a reprieve to President Khatami during the trip to the United Nations where he was attempting to portray Iran's regime as one that respects the rights of its citizens.
The verdicts raise many questions as to the appropriate Western response. Western governments must surely give thought as to whether they can rightly carry on with business as usual, given the clear violations of the human rights of these Iranian Jews.
The Board of Deputies wants to know whether it is to be "business as usual" with the regime. That is the question at the heart of this debate. It is about Mr Cook's pledge that national interest and principle are two sides of the same coin.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, who has done so much to keep human rights to the fore, who recently voiced her frustrations about the international funding and commitment of national governments to human rights, has, because of her frustrations, alas, decided not to seek a second term. That decision should enliven and stimulate our determination to become a standard bearer in promoting and upholding the principle of human rights. In the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, we have a diligent, competent and articulate advocate and I would like to see her given greater authority and a wider ranging mandate to concentrate exclusively on highlighting these issues. Their importance is central to the pursuit of our foreign policy.
To answer the Board of Deputies, we should have no business collaborating with such a regime, and no business interests can justify such involvement. I hope that today's debate will bring these issues to a wider audience and encourage the Government to reassess this policy. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
Almost every day information becomes available that confirms that the regime in Tehran continues to rule by what can only be described as a policy of fear and terror. There is no scarcity of information about the human rights situation in Iran. The information comes from members of the Iranian community here in Britain and Iranian communities in other countries. The information comes from our own media, from human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and, as recently as last week, from the
The meeting of that commission voted in favour of a resolution to continue its annual review of the human rights situation in Iran. At the meeting, the Iranian Ambassador, Ali Khorram, had requested that the mandate of the UN special envoy on Iran, Maurice Copithorne, should be ended. The reason the Ambassador gave to the commission was that he considered,
Professor Copithorne reported that 200 people had been executed so far this year and that a further 75 people have been sentenced to death, including eight women. Some of the sentences included death by stoning.
No resolution, however diplomatically it is drafted, can deny the fact that the people of Iran live in fear. Recent punishments in Iran, some of which have been mentioned, serve only to underline and confirm the brutality of the regime. On 11th January of this year the French press agency reported that the official
A further example of the brutal regime is the public lashings of three young men, all in their 20s, who had been accused of drinking alcohol and having illicit sexual relationships. In February this year the three young men, two brothers and their cousin--Ismail, Majid and Mahammad Rahimi--staggered away between their police escort, each having received 180 severe lashes. In the wonderful civilisation that we enjoy in this country it is difficult to understand how any civilised government can have dealings with a regime that publicly executes, lashes and stones its own people.
The list of acts of brutality since the beginning of this year includes 24 youngsters accused of dancing in a disturbing manner, whatever that may mean. The 17 boys who were arrested received 58 lashes and each of the girls was sentenced to 28 lashes. All of the youngsters were sent to Adelabad prison in Shiraz. In another case reported in the Kayhan Daily on 15th January, men received lashing sentences in Qom, the verdicts to be carried out in stages over three days. Six were given between 50 and 74 lashes in six districts. In February of this year a man charged with theft had four fingers amputated, plus two years in prison and 74 lashes.
These illustrations of justice in Iran indicate how right Amnesty International is to draw attention in its July report, under the heading "More Failures of Iranian Justice"--I obtained that document as recently as Monday of this week--to the failure of the regime in Iran to deliver the promised reform to its judiciary. It is worth mentioning that the promise was made in 1999 by the same head of the judiciary who in January of this year had advocated the carrying out of "retribution verdicts in public", such as hangings, the
Last Wednesday the world recoiled at the news that Iran had fired scud missiles at camps inside Iraq belonging to an Iranian rebel group. The report said that the Iraqi Government were furious and reserved the right to respond with suitable means to the attack on their country. When I heard Channel 4 News I thought that somebody had gone completely mad, given the present situation in the Middle East. The Mojahedin said that one of its members was killed as a result of the attacks on its camps closest to the cities of Kut and Khalis in Iraq. Channel 4 News also said that, according to reports, some of the missiles missed their targets and landed on residential areas. Other reports put the number of surface-to-surface scud missiles launched at 77.
The missile attack lasted 10 hours. The Mojahedin camp at Habib to the north of Basra was hit in two series of attacks with 27 missiles. Twenty-four missiles hit the city of Jalawla, killing a 33 year-old mother and her daughter aged six and wounding dozens of other people. Two missiles landed near Jalawla's mosque and the rest landed on residential areas. Thirteen missiles hit Khalis about 100 kilometres north of Baghdad, while five hit Meqdadiah. In Kut, some of the craters left by the impact of these missiles measured up to 12 metres in diameter and up to 5 metres in depth. At about seven o'clock in the morning three more scud missiles landed near Kut, one of which hit the city's technical college.
As would be expected, there was a reaction. A Reuters report last Wednesday referred to a statement issued by Massoud Rajavi, the Iranian resistance leader, following the scud missile attacks. In his statement he urged the UN Security Council to condemn the attack and take a stance immediately against the Mullah's outlaw action in breach of international law. I ask my noble friend whether Her Majesty's Government will give support to that call by Massoud Rajavi.
The damage inflicted by the unprovoked attack on innocent civilians has been seen by reporters from western news agencies and television networks. Those reporters have visited the scenes of destruction in Jalawla, Kut and Khalis.
On the day following the attack, not unexpectedly, Iranian exiles, refugees and supporters of the resistance took part in rallies in 18 cities across the world, including Oslo, Melbourne, Washington, Ottawa, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Berlin and in at least six other cities in Germany.
I should like to return to the question of the brutality of a regime that includes death by stoning. I quote an appeal by Amnesty International in January of this year. The appeal was for interested people and organisations to protest at that time against the imminent execution of a number of young people. I shall not quote all of the appeal, but by way of illustrating the brutality of the Mullah's regime I simply quote Amnesty's description of how the sentence on a 3l year-old woman (Maryam Ayoubi) was to be carried out:
The time for making excuses for dealing with these people is long passed. Constructive dialogue is acceptable if it has any promise of bringing about change. In the words of the head of the Iranian judiciary, who only last week sought to end the UN monitoring of human rights abuses,
Perhaps the time has come when we should recognise that constructive dialogue with the regime is not bearing fruit. It is not crumbs of comfort from diplomatic resolutions that the people of Iran need and deserve; they want the free world to speak out loudly and firmly against the barbaric methods of justice that the regime routinely uses in its endeavours to cling to power.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Clarke, have both referred to the resolution passed last week in the Human Rights Commission and to the report of the special rapporteur, Dr Maurice Copithorne, who, among other things, regrets that the Government of Iran have ceased to co-operate by allowing him to visit the
The rapporteur says that the legal system, particularly the judiciary, is in desperate need of repair. The status of minorities remains a neglected area of human rights. The murder and disappearance of intellectuals and political dissidents is a stain on Iran and will remain so until all the outstanding questions are answered and the perpetrators brought to justice. The trials of those who attended a conference in Berlin--mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton--have the strong appearance of farce, he says, except of course for those who are going through this unreal experience.
The rapporteur's report was completed in December. Since then, as Dr Copithorne told the commission, there has been no improvement in the state of freedom of expression and of the press. He said that the revolutionary courts and the special court for the clergy make frequent use of pre-trial detention, particularly of journalists, students, intellectuals and political dissidents. The detainees are often held incommunicado in secret places of detention, a practice which is conducive to torture, and, as might be expected, many cases of torture have indeed been reported to the rapporteur on torture, Sir Nigel Rodley, of which I give two examples.
First, Mr Abbas Amir-Entezam, deputy prime minister and spokesman of the 1979 interim government of Mehdi Bazargan, was arrested in 1998 at his home in Tehran. He is one of the unfortunates held in Evin prison. He is said to be in urgent need of appropriate medical attention for kidney failure and a ruptured eardrum and loss of hearing in one ear, allegedly as the result of his long detention and repeated subjection to torture. He is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.
Secondly, Mr Akbar Ganji, an investigative journalist, was hung upside down in a cell while four guards kicked him in the head and stomach. He was punished with 80 days of solitary confinement when he started a hunger strike to protest against his treatment. Ganji had written a series of articles implicating former President Rafsanjani in the murders of dissidents and intellectuals carried out by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence.
At the end of 1999, as your Lordships may recall, four well-known opponents of the regime were savagely murdered and a number of people were arrested for those crimes. They all turned out to be agents of the Ministry of Intelligence. The principal accused, Sa'eed Emami, was a deputy Minister of the Ministry of Intelligence. He died later on in Evin prison after he was said to have drunk a bottle of hair- remover containing arsenic while he was in his bath
Emami was said to have made a confession on videotape. But it was never made public in spite of assurances that it would be shown on television. The trial of the other 18 defendants linked to these four murder charges was finally held in camera at the end of last year. No attempt was then made to link these particular murders to earlier killings by Ministry of Intelligence agents, some of which I described in my book Iran: State of Terror published in 1996. I also analysed the available evidence on the more recent killings, which were known as the "chain murders", and the way that they fitted into the pattern of state-sponsored murder in my book Fatal Writ, published a year ago. In his current report, the rapporteur says that he reiterates his deep concern over this tragic abuse of the human rights of the victims, and his dissatisfaction with the way the government have handled the investigation over the prolonged period of two years.
Why should not the rapporteur undertake an inquiry into the regime's use of murder to silence its opponents? If he announced that he was going to collect and analyse evidence on the phenomenon, including assassinations committed abroad and attempts to kill the author Salman Rushdie and many other people associated with his book, a great deal of fresh material might become available. It would serve to underline the international community's abhorrence of the gang which master-minded the killings of the Christian priests mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and of a former prime minister, Kurdish leaders, political opponents, intellectuals, and all the people associated with the publication of The Satanic Verses.
The recent wave of arrests of members of the nationalist Iran Freedom Movement and others has been described as a "creeping coup" by Joe Stork of the Washington-based Human Rights Watch. Twenty people were arrested in March and another 40 earlier this month in what Mr Stork said looked like a coup designed to stifle free expression and activism for reform in the run-up to the forthcoming election. As has been mentioned, already 30 independent newspapers have been closed down and hardly a week goes by without news of further arrests of journalists. Among those detained in the latest sweep was
On Monday, Mohammad Salamati, a close ally of President Khatami, went on trial, accused of spreading rumours of a conservative-led impeachment motion against the president. He is managing editor of the weekly Asr Ma, Our Age, and also secretary-general of the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organisation, and an important member of the Second Chord Coalition which supports the president. Mr Salamati came before the notorious judge Sa'id Mortazavi, who has been responsible for the decimation of the press and journalists. He was accused of questioning the reliability of state-controlled TV reports about the conference held in Berlin, mentioned earlier, to discuss reform in Iran.
Yet another senior figure belonging to the president's faction, Mostafa Tajzadeh, the deputy interior Minister who is supposed to be supervising the elections on 8th June, appeared in court in relation to his alleged role in the violent unrest which arose at a pro-reform student conference in Khoramabad last August.
I can understand the Government wishing to believe that President Khatami would be able to liberalise the regime, to end arbitrary detention, reduce the number of executions, extend freedom of expression and widen the political space to allow democratic pluralism. However, it has to be recognised that none of these have been achieved during the four years of his presidency, and there is no prospect that the forthcoming election will lead to any amelioration. It is not even certain, with just over a month to go, that Mr Khatami will stand as a candidate. But if he was genuinely committed to reform, he must be bitterly disappointed at having been able to achieve so little, and he will be reflecting that within the straitjacket of the velayat-e-faqih, the doctrine laid down by Ayatollah Khomeini of the supremacy of the spiritual leader, the elected president and Majlis have about as much say in national affairs as your Lordships do in this country in our affairs. Three years ago, the BBC hailed Mr Khatami as Iran's Gorbachev, and Foreign Office experts were convinced that somehow, miraculously, he would transform the regime into a
People may still support Mr Khatami, if he decides to stand, because he is perceived to want change, and not because he can actually deliver it. But I doubt whether it is possible to sustain indefinitely a political system which is incapable of producing what the electors demand. A theocratic dictatorship with a democratic veneer is unworkable and unstable, but for as long as it lasts, the governing mullahs have to trample on human rights, to counter the growing opposition to their rule.
Our policy should not be to rely on the process of reform gathering momentum but should take account of the possibility that the extremists will come out on top, whatever may happen on 8th June. If human rights are under greater threat than ever with a so-called reformist president and a would-be reformist Majlis, why should it be assumed that 8th June will make any difference? With the reactionaries in control of the judiciary and the Basij militia, which is to recruit another 2 million new members this year according to its commander, as well as the Revolutionary Guards Corps, they are in a position to stamp out unrest and dissent. Our policy for the period after 8th June has to take account of that; otherwise, we shall fail.
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I share with others in the House a concern about the violation of human rights in Iran. I do not doubt the figures and the stories quoted this evening and also in the debate in the House on 27th March on proscribed organisations in relation to the Terrorism Act. Concern is perhaps too weak a word; there is sadness, anger and sometimes a sense of horror. Nevertheless, I did not sign the letter on human rights in Iran circulated by some Members of your Lordships' House for a reason I should like to explain and why I am glad of the opportunity to take part in this debate.
Iran is an Islamic state and Islam is a fundamental part of its life and culture. If it is to move in the direction that we all want to see, with genuine democracy, greater respect for civil liberties and less abuse of power, then it will do so, I believe, in Islamic terms. The problem with the letter and some of the language of this debate is that they are couched in Western human rights language. Human rights are, I believe, of universal validity and are not simply an invention of post-World War II Europe. But we need to pay attention to the Islamic context in which that language has to become a reality. In short, my contention is that there needs to be a greater appeal to the fundamental principles of Islam and Islamic civilisation, which properly understood can underpin and reinforce the values which we share and support from a secular, Jewish or Christian perspective.
Like other noble Lords taking part in the debate, I have received a wodge of papers from the National Council of Resistance of Iran. It is, as we know, particularly critical of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, in the debate on 27th March. In response to that speech it asserts:
Within the Islamic world at the moment there is a great debate about the relationship between democracy and Islam. We have to recognise that some, both governments and extremist opposition parties, believe that they are incompatible. But others argue that Islamic values demand a democratic system. The concept of Shura or consultation is fundamental to Islam. There is also the tradition of independent reasoning, Ijtihad, and consensus, Ijma. On this basis some leading Muslim thinkers argue that democracy is not only compatible with Islam but is required by it. So as one prominent writer has said:
We all know that the basis of political power in Iran at the moment is complex and not always clear, but obviously the role of the Supreme Leader and the Council of Guardians is crucial. Nevertheless, there is an elected president and an elected majlis or parliament. Another leading Muslim writer on human rights in Islam has written:
We know that there is a democratic element in Iran at the moment and I should like to suggest that we should do all we can to encourage the development and growth of that democratic party within a culture which is and, so far as one can tell such things, will remain essentially Islamic. Despite the tensions and struggle between those who want to change in a more democratic direction and those do not, things have changed for the better.
The non-Islamic religions in Iran have suffered very badly since the revolution, above all the Baha'is, whom I have already mentioned, but also the small Jewish community, some of whom were tried and imprisoned last year, and the Anglican Church. On the positive side, the Anglican Bishop in Iran has now been officially recognised by the state. On the negative side, the property that was seized after the revolution has not been returned and the resolution of the 1988 Lambeth Conference respectfully requesting the Islamic Republic of Iran to respond positively to the claims of the Anglican Church in Iran has not yet happened.
While in no way glossing over the abuses which continue in Iran and continuing to draw attention to these, as other noble Lords quite properly have done this evening, I believe that we should welcome and affirm the process of change which has taken place there. Above all, we should see that process and its future possibilities within its Islamic context and do all we can to bring to the fore those Islamic principles and values which resonate with our western human rights language.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, Iran is an extraordinary country with an extraordinary history and a no less remarkable present. In his report on the human rights situation in Iran to the United Nations Human Rights Commission on 16th January this year, Mr Maurice Copithorne, the Special Representative for the commission, put it this way:
However, I would add that, despite the closure of over 30 reformist papers over the past year or so, invariably without any open process or clear legal justification, the Canutes of the reactionary Iranian clerical establishment cannot keep the genie of free expression in a bottle of their choosing. Just before we debated the Terrorism Bill in relation to MKO/MeK/NCRI in this House on 27th March, I asked the British Embassy in Iran to let me know how things then stood in terms of reformist newspapers. Although it was only six weeks ago, the embassy reckoned that at least 10 such national newspapers were in circulation, each with readerships in excess of 60,000.
As recently as this month, more than 150 of the 290 deputies in the Majlis, the Iranian parliament, sent a formal letter to the head of the judiciary, Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, demanding an end to what they called the illegal and unwarranted arrest of liberal and reformist figures. This followed the recent banning of the liberal opposition group, which again has already
Students continue to hold demonstrations and conferences which thousands enthusiastically attend to express their views. On the anniversary of the 1999 student riots--I was there with a parliamentary delegation the following week--the Tehran university students were back on the streets, publicly making their views felt. In August of last year a massive conference took place at Khorramabad, to which various speakers were invited and which the revolutionary guards did their best to prevent and upset. No fewer than three inquiries have taken place since the disturbances in Khorramabad. Two of those inquiries have come to the clear conclusion that the revolutionary guards were responsible and must not be allowed to undertake such disruptive activity.
Of course, producing reports and coming to conclusions is not the same as achieving results, but it is all part and parcel of a vigour of democratic expression and activity in Iran which, I venture to suggest, has not been fully or indeed fairly expressed so far in the debate.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page