02 February 2017
My Lords, in addition to the cruel and manipulative treatment of this family by the Iranian authorities, which were responsible for more than 1,000 executions in one recent year, including women and teenagers, is the Minister aware that predatory attempts have been made to extract money from Nazanin’s husband Richard by so-called intermediaries preying on their sense of desperation? Can the Minister add to what she told us a moment ago and say when our consular officials last saw Nazanin and also tell the House what she can about the other three British citizens who are being held in Iranian jails?
My Lords, I have read newspaper reports of the appalling attempt to gain money from the family, which the noble Lord has just described, but they are newspaper reports—I personally do not have details of that. It is a fact that those who are dual nationals face significant problems if they are detained in Iran, because we do not have consular access to them. We can ask, but we cannot insist—although it does not stop us continuing to ask. As recently as this Tuesday, my honourable friend Tobias Ellwood met Mr Ratcliffe to update him on what happened when Tobias visited Tehran earlier in January. Officials met the family recently and Tobias also met the family when he was in Tehran. Those meetings will continue, because our only intent is to resolve this issue in a positive way for the family.
To read to full debate, go to:
Speech made in the House of Lords….
4.48 pm December 8th 2016
Human Rights Violations in Iran
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Afshar has set the scene powerfully and eloquently for today’s important debate, not least because her own deep personal experiences and knowledge of Iran equip her so admirably to do so.
On 17 November, a symposium was held in your Lordships’ House, looking at the human rights situation in Iran. It was organised by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. During that symposium, I pointed out, as my noble friend has just done, that Iran had been one of the 48 countries that voted for the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights—although notably, not least in the light of the Foreign Secretary’s recent speech, Saudi Arabia did not. But, by 1982, Iran’s representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, said that Iran had come to see the declaration as a,
“secular understanding of the Judaeo-Christian tradition”,
which Iran could not implement without being in conflict with sharia law.
Today, Iran is in breach of most of the declaration’s 30 articles. But here is the hopeful thing: many Iranians do not want these egregious violations of human rights to continue. A 10-point manifesto published by the NCRI’s president, Maryam Rajavi, sets out a programme which would transform Iran.
In it she states her commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to other international instruments. She calls for the abolition of the death penalty, the creation of a modern legal system and the independence of judges. The manifesto says:
“Cruel and degrading punishments will have no place in the future Iran”.
Madam Rajavi would end Tehran’s funding of Hamas, Hezbollah and other militant groups and is committed to peaceful coexistence, relations with all countries and respect for the United Nations charter.
All this matters because it is clear that this ancient nation, a cradle of civilisation, should not be caricatured as being wedded to the fanaticism, intolerance and hatred promoted by many of Iran’s present leaders. An Iran that upheld respect for difference and promoted toleration, democracy, diversity, equality, human rights and the rule of secular law would be an Iran respected and honoured throughout the world. Instead of which, let us be clear about the nature of a brutal regime, which last year executed 1,000 people.
The Home Office country guidance published in March is a damning indictment. It says:
“Human rights defenders in detention are subject harassment, interrogation, solitary confinement, denied access to adequate medical treatment, face and torture … Freedom of speech is limited … and those critical of the government may be subject to arrest, harassment, monitoring, detention, unfair trials, death threats and torture”.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office report notes that:
“Hundreds of human rights defenders and political prisoners continued to be … detained in Iran”.
In February 2015, the United Nations Secretary-General reported that:
“Human rights defenders, lawyers, students and women’s rights activists, journalists and trade unionists … continue to face restrictions, arrest, conviction and imprisonment for exercising their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression and opinion”.
In October, Ban Ki-moon delivered a further damning assessment, highlighting the “alarming rate” of executions, and saying that little progress had been made under President Hassan Rouhani. The US State Department’s annual report on human rights practices notes:
“The law limits freedom of speech, including by members of the press”,
and that individuals were not permitted to,
“criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion”.
Freedom House says in its 2016 annual report:
“The judicial system is used as a tool to silence critics and opposition members”.
The position of LGBT and women’s rights activists, who are treated as “enemies of the state”, is downright appalling. In August, it was reported that the Iranian authorities had intensified their repression of women’s rights activists in the country, carrying out a series of harsh interrogations and likening any collective initiative relating to women’s rights to criminal activity. Women in Iran are subject to pervasive discrimination in both law and practice, including in areas concerning marriage, divorce, child custody, freedom of movement, employment and access to political office. Women and girls are inadequately protected against domestic and other violence, including early and forced marriage and marital rape. Compulsory “veiling”—hijab—laws empower police and paramilitary forces to regularly target women, including through harassment, violence and imprisonment.
In October, the Independent reported on the case of Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, a young female Iranian author and human rights activist who has been jailed for six years for writing an unpublished novel about stoning.
Then there is the case of Maryam Akbari Monfared, who is serving a 15-year sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. She is being denied access to medical treatment and is facing reprisals after filing a formal complaint that seeks an official investigation into the mass killings of political prisoners, including her siblings, in the summer of 1988, evidence of which has been seen by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Simultaneously, the human rights defender Mansoureh Behkish is facing trumped-up national security charges for peacefully defending the right to truth and justice concerning those mass killings of political prisoners, including her siblings and brother-in-law.
Think, too, about the massive violations of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to believe, not to believe or to change your belief. On 30 November, a group of 19 human rights organisations called on the international community and United Nations to particularly protect the rights of Christians in Iran. This reinforces the findings of the Westminster all-party inquiry into Article 18 issues in Iran, in which I participated last year. After taking evidence and witness statements, the committee concluded:
“Sadly, we have been disappointed that”,
“positive promises and moderate language have not translated into any meaningful improvement”.
Many of the report’s recommendations apply to Iran’s other suffering religious minorities, such as the Baha’is, Sufi dervishes and Sunni Muslims.
That the situation has not improved in the intervening 12 months is illustrated by the cases of Ramiel Bet Tamraz, Mohamad Dehnay, Amin Nader Afshar, Hadi Askary and Amir Sina Dasht.
During the summer they went fishing and to have a picnic with their wives and friends. Security officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security raided the picnic and arrested the five men, detaining them in the notorious Evin prison. One is an ethnic Assyrian but the other men are Iranian converts from Islam, and it is believed that their arrest and detention relates to their Christian faith. Vast sums of money are required for bail and two of them remain incarcerated awaiting trial, unable to raise the bail money.
Take also the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and three others, all arrested on charges of action against national security. Three of them face charges related to consumption of alcohol for drinking wine during a communion service. After a court hearing on 10 September, they were each sentenced to 80 lashes—a barbaric and inhumane punishment. Their appeal hearing is scheduled for 9 February.
Take, too, the position of Baha’is. Repression against them has accelerated in the past few months, not least during the celebration of their religious festivals. The Iranian state has recalibrated its long-standing tactics in pursuit of its ideological goal of extirpating a viable Baha’i community in the land of its birth through economic means. Can the Minister comment when she comes to reply on the closure of Baha’i businesses and on the hate crimes that led in September, in an appalling act of violence, to Farhang Amiri, aged 63, being murdered outside his home. A Baha’i, he was stabbed to death by two men, who admitted they had attacked him because of his religious beliefs.
Finally, what about the case that my noble friend raised, of the Iranian-British charity worker, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. In September, the Iranian regime sentenced her, as we heard, to five years’ imprisonment. On 6 September, I raised her case on the Floor of your Lordships’ House. Indeed, many other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Beith, who is in his seat, the noble Lords, Lord Cotter, Lord Bruce and Lord Campbell, have also made representations on her behalf. I ask again today about her physical and mental health and that of her little daughter and, as my noble friend Lady Afshar asked, about consular access. Can the Minister tell us what progress we are making in securing her release and say something more generally about the position of dual nationals in Iran?
To conclude, contrary to promises of reforms and a more open society made by Hassan Rouhani when he took over the presidency almost four years ago, the human rights situation in Iran continues to deteriorate on very many fronts. Britain has restored diplomatic relations with Iran. My noble friend’s question enables us to ask today: how are we using that leverage, and what priority are we giving, to promote human rights in this deeply repressive country?