The Iranian Human Rights Crisis

DATE: 7th July 2021, 2:00pm – 3:00pm

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: The Iranian Human Rights Crisis

VENUE: Online

SPEAKERS: Bob Blackman MP, Jason Brodsky, Nargess Tavassolian

MODERATOR: Robert Clark


Robert Clark  00:00

Good morning and welcome to everyone joining us today for our event concerning the human rights situation in Iran. My name is Robert Clark and I’m a defence fellow here at the Henry Jackson Society. Now, whilst Iranians have long suffered under a brutal regime in Tehran, it’s maybe about to come even worse. After the recent election, which saw Ebrahim Raisi elected president, concerns are mounting as to what the ultra-conservative President-Elect will mean for the Iranian population. Before I introduce this afternoon’s speakers, just a few house rules. We’ll go to the audience Q&A in the second half of this afternoon’s discussion throughout this consortium, please do feel free to ask questions for our speakers. Just in the question comment box below on your screens. When we’d like you to ask your question, please just unmute yourself, ask your question and then just kindly place yourself back on mute. Equally for the speakers if we could keep if we could stay on mute unless of course, we are speaking ourselves. Now it gives me enormous pleasure to introduce our first guest speaker, someone who brings not only her own professional insights and knowledge to this debate but also her own family’s experiences. Nargess Tavassolian is an Iranian journalist and legal analyst who currently works with Iran international TV in London, making reports on a variety of subjects, including human rights abuses in Iran. Both of Nargess’s parents have been deeply involved in campaigning for human rights in Iran, including her mother who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. Nargess, thank you so much for joining us today.

Nargess Tavassolian  01:25

Thank you so much for having me. Hi, everyone. The subject of today’s session is a breach of human rights in Iran. And having witnessed the recent presidential election in Iran, I would like to start with the right to a free and fair election, and how this right is breached in Iran. I will then talk about the breach of two other rights, freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest. And then I will also bring my own experience. Iranian officials allege that elections in Iran are free and fair, but one only needs to study the Constitution to see how these rights are breached. All presidential candidates need to be vetoed by the guardian council. So, 12 members of the Guardian Council are all either directly or indirectly chosen by the Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei. So, Guardian Council does not need to provide a reason for disqualifying the candidates. This year, out of almost 600 candidates the Guardian Council only approves the qualification of seven candidates, not to mention that the law on who can become president is discriminatory itself by only allowing Shia Muslims to become president. The election was largely boycotted by the people and the rate of participation was the lowest since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Due to its vast powers, the Guardian Council is an impediment to any reform movement in Iran. Not only does it have the power to disqualify candidates for the presidential and parliamentary election, but it also has the power to veto Parliament’s enactment, based on his discretion and interpretation of the application of Islam or the Constitution. The Guardian Council has in the past used this veto power on various occasions, like freedom of expression. Another issue that I want to stress as a journalist is how’s your right to freedom of expression is breached in Iran. First, I’d like to mention the citizen journalist Ruhollah Zam, who was abducted during a visit to Iraq and later executed in Iran in December 2020. He was charged with several crimes including spreading corruption, because of his news telegram channel Amad News, which had more than a million followers. Even though the execution of Ruhollah Zam is the most striking case of the breach of freedom of expression in Iran, unfortunately, it is not the only case. According to Reporters Without Borders, at least 1000 journalists and citizen journalists have been arrested, detained, murdered, subjected to enforced disappearance or executed by the Iranian regime since 1979. Iran continues to be the country that has officially executed the most journalists in the past 50 years. Museums have online pages of freely and independently reported information that has been blocked and more than 350 newspapers have been closed since 1981. Iran’s press freedom rank is 174 amongst 180 countries, according to Reporters Without Borders. Journalists and writers in Iran can be prosecuted for mere criticism of the government or the functioning of the government under charges such as propaganda against the state or insulting their religious values. But Iran’s breach of the right to freedom of expression is not limited to journalists and activists inside Iran. It also extends to those living outside the country. This happened through various means, including targeting and harassing family members of journalists in Iran who lives in Iran, country, confiscation of belongings, deformation, and threats. I would like to share my personal experience in this regard. As a journalist, I have faced various aspects of the breach of the right to freedom of expression. For example, I am barred from doing any business transactions in Iran, and I can’t travel to my country. Additionally, I’ve ever experienced a breach of rights not as a result of my own activism or journalism, but also as a result of my mother’s activism. Even though it is propaganda of the regime family is considered a sacred union. So sacred that women are encouraged to give up or at least compromise their job or education in favour of establishing a family. The government does not hesitate to use the same so-called sacred union to crush a critic. In 2009, as a way to pressurize my mother, both my aunts, my mother, sister, and my father, were arrested. My father was forced to make false statements against my mother, which was later broadcast on state TV. Watching the few minutes of my father’s force convention, confessions was one of the worst ordeals of my life, if not the worst. And I also had to deal with the deformation of my mother on the news outlets run by the state from an early age. Another right, the right to peaceful protest. The instance of Navid Afkari pleading for help went viral on social media, an Iranian young wrestler who was executed in September 2020 for participating in a street protest in the summer of 2018. According to Amnesty International, before his secret execution, Navid was subjected to a shocking catalogue of human rights violations and crimes, including enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment, leading to false confessions and denial of access to a lawyer and other fair trial guarantees. Navid was arrested along with his brother in September 2018. He was the first to receive a death sentence for the crime of waging war against God for participation in a protest. The authorities later charged him with a murder of a government employee along with his brothers. Navid was sentenced to death and was executed while his brothers, Vahid and Javi were sentenced to long prison terms. While Navid was executed, his brothers are still in prison under dire conditions. While this case is a striking example of the breach of the right to protest. Unfortunately, it is not the only case. About 1500 people were killed during the process of November 2019. The protests began with a sudden rise in fuel prices and occurred in more than 100 cities. Not only 1500 people were killed on the street, but 1000s including peaceful protests, protesters, activists, and journalists were also arrested. Of those arrested, many received harsh sentences, such as long imprisonment, and at least one is currently facing the death penalty. Iran enforces this penalty against its obligation under international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That includes persecuting those who are under 18 at the time of the crime and also issuing this sentence for the crimes which were not considered as the most serious crimes under International Law. Yesterday, Iran Supreme Court overturned the deaths sentence of a man 10 months after his actual execution. These ratios of human rights occur as the judiciary said Raisi presides over now. One cannot see a better future for human rights as Raisi becomes President, thank you.

Robert Clark  10:33

Thank you very much for those fascinating insights Nargess, and the deeply personal account of your family which you’ve shared with us today, thank you. Just a brief reminder to those watching, please do feel free to submit your questions for our speakers. And we’ll address those shortly. Our next speaker is Jason Brodsky, Senior middle east analyst and Editor of Iran International in Washington. Jason’s research specialities include leadership dynamics in Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Shia militias and us Middle East Policy more broadly. Thank you once again for your time, Jason, it’s great to have you back. Thank you.

Jason Brodsky  11:08

Great. Thanks, Rob. And thank you, Nargess. Just Nice to see you. I’d like to emphasize today and begin my remarks by saying Iran is not just a nuclear file. Too often, the international community focuses exclusively and singularly on the nuclear issue to such an extent that it paralyzes action on a variety of other problematic malign conduct from the Islamic Republic, most especially human rights abuses. To provide one example, on June 30, in response to a question from a reporter on whether the French Foreign Ministry supports call the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran for an independent inquiry into the allegations of state-ordered execution of 1000s of political prisoners in 1988 and the role played by President-Elect Ebrahim Raisi, France’s foreign ministry, avoided directly committing directly on the topic, or even commenting on the topic, there was just a general expression of concern about the human rights situation. Now, the context here is important. The US and the E3 are engaged in critical point in negotiations with Iran to revive the nuclear deal, and they may feel that to do so they have to tread carefully with President-Elect Raisi. This is concerning, as are the reports that the US is considering using sanctions on the Iranian Supreme Leader’s office, including potentially on Raisi himself, who was sanctioned under that authority merely for return to the 2015 terms of the nuclear deal. That’s deeply troubling in my view. Next, I want to discuss the impact of Iran’s presidential election on the human rights situation. Ayatollah Khamenei appointment of another Chief Justice last week to replace Raisi as he was elected president and where that leaves the international community more broadly. In my view, the election of Raisi to Iran’s presidency matters. Raisi was the first one-time head of the judiciary to assume the post since 1979. His predecessors hailed from the executive or legislative branches ahead of their tenures. Before he became President Ali Khamenei served in Parliament and was a Deputy Defence Minister. Ditto for Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who was speaker of Parliament. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was mayor of Tehran, and Hassan Rouhani was Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. Raisi, however, has a background steeped in prison sentences, floggings, executions, and crackdowns and are indicative of the Islamic Republic laying the groundwork for an eventual leadership transition, and the deep state effectively becoming Iran’s elected state. President Raisi will not alter the broad contours of Iran’s human rights policies. This is because Iran supreme leader has the last words on all matters of state and controls the judiciary system inside the country. However, the internal dynamics of the Supreme National Security Council where at times domestic security policies are debated when protests happen, or other domestic security incidents happen. Those dynamics will change. Raisi has been a member of the Supreme National Security Council as Chief Justice since 2019. But as President, he’ll be Chairman of the Council and members of his administration will also join thus you will retain some ability to shape the debate within the council. Raisi’s ascension to the presidency has also caused Ayatollah to name a new Chief Justice who is a  former intelligence minister, Deputy Chief Justice and Attorney General. So we’ll be encountering a different dynamic from Rouhani. On the council, with Rouhani, he had to contend with Raisi, a former political rival as another SMSC member, but right you see will now be sitting in the same chamber with his former deputy, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei being elevated to succeed him as head of the judiciary. But the two men have a (inaudible) past and a difficult history and there’s no guarantee that there won’t be any friction. As Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei was named First Deputy Chief Justice under the tenure of Raisi’s predecessor as Chief Justice. But Raisi’s personal record causes great concern given his ability to shape the debate in the council and at the highest levels of the regime. He became a Prosecutor General and Karaj at the age of 20. Media accounts at the time detail harrowing accounts of executions in Karaj, with one case involving four women accused of prostitution and six men accused of illegal drugs being executed by firing squad, and another case and an anti-regime protester was executed as were members of the high faith. As Deputy Prosecutor General of Tehran. He also infamously served on a death commission which greenlighted the execution of 1000s of political dissidents. The Times recently interviewed witnesses during Raisi’s tenure in the 1980s. And some indicated he presided over beatings, stonings, and rape as well as ordering mass executions of prisoners by hanging or throwing them off cliffs. Consider the accounts of a victim of one of Raisi’s crackdowns. She said, and this is her quote, “about eight men were standing there to flog me but I remember one man most of all, he was young, maybe 21 or 22 with a dark shirt over his pants. He was standing in the corner watching the other men flog me and flog me… he seemed to enjoy it. That man was Ebrahim Raisi.” If Ebrahim Raisi was bad around new Chief Justice Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei is worse. He reportedly once bit a reporter. A former Iranian vice president has accused him or likened him to the former commander of the SS in Nazi Germany, Heinrich Himmler, and he’s been sanctioned by the European Union and the United States for human rights abuses. In the sanctions designation, the US said listen, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei confirmed that he authorized confrontations between protesters and their arrests and as a result, protesters were detained without formal charges brought against them. And during this detention detainees are subject to beatings, solitary confinement, and the denial of due process at the hands of the intelligence officers under the direction of Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei What does this mean? The supreme leader is ensuring that trusted and repressive hands will be present in the event of a leadership transition. As Ebrahim Raisi and Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei would be constitutionally positioned to serve on an interim Leadership Council with the Supreme Leader passes away or becomes ill and unable to fulfil his duties during Raisi’s tenure. The ascendance of this individual, these individuals, I feel is also indicative of a certain level of confidence of the regime that it can survive, and it has nothing to fear in terms of regime survival by positioning some of the most repressive people in the system and the President and Chief Justice. However, it will increase the costs for the West in terms of domestic politics of engagement with Iran given these bloodstained records. In the United States, in Washington, there is broad bipartisan consensus on the need to hold Iran accountable for human rights abuses. In the end, the international community must demonstrate that it has the ability to hold Iran accountable for its non-nuclear malign behaviour while pursuing nuclear diplomacy. But to date, the European record I fear on this issue has been very wanting and lacking. For instance, since the nuclear deal was signed in 2015, the EU has sanctioned Iran just twice for non-nuclear malign conduct over an assassination plot in 2019 and human rights abuses in 2021. That hesitancy and desperation to preserve the nuclear deal has crippled and paralyzed the international community from addressing this conduct and doesn’t inspire confidence in the ability of capitals to do so. Even if the nuclear deal is revised. We have to do better, and I think that it’s the United States and the United Kingdom have an opportunity to work together. To do better for the Iranian people. Thank you.

Robert Clark  20:07

Thanks very much, Jason. Your observations regarding the Iranian nuclear proliferation issues, almost suffocating all the Iranian security matters are quite astute. And that’s precisely why this event is a timely reminder of the broader security concerns which Iran threaten, not least all the domestic human rights situation. So, thank you. And we’ll shortly turn to the audience Q&A. So, if you’re watching this and have a question for our speakers, please do feel free to submit them. Our final speaker this afternoon is Mr Bob Blackman, a Member of Parliament for Harrow East here in the United Kingdom. And he also serves as the executive secretary of the 1922 Committee, Mr. Blackman has long been an advocate for improving the human rights situation in Iran and supporting the work in the British Committee for Iran freedom, whilst also championing the UK’s role in holding Iran to account over human rights abuses here in Parliament. Mr Blackman, thank you so much for your time.

Bob Blackman MP  21:02

Yeah, right, thank you very much for handing over to me in that kind introduction. And I just about caught most of what Jason had to say. So, I don’t want to repeat anything that he’s been saying, obviously, here in Britain, in the UK, I and many others have been constantly encouraging our government and the foreign governments to apply sanctions against the Iranian regime. And the withdraw from the ridiculous, so-called nuclear deal. We already know that Iran is, actually no, they didn’t even sign the deal in the first place and expects everyone else, to run with it. The real concern, I think that with the news is come out today that Iran is enriching uranium, there is a very serious view that either Iran has already the capability of a nuclear weapon or will very shortly arrive in a position of having the capability for a nuclear weapon. All of that, of course, is an extreme danger. Iran under the Supreme Leader, and indeed, across the bow, the regime wants to eliminate Israel from the planet. And, of course, they already know, we already know they have the ballistic missiles that can reach from Tehran to the state of Israel. So, this is a threat, an existential threat to the state of Israel. It’s also to other Western interests because a nuclear-armed Iran would be a danger to all of us in the West and all the interests. Indeed, of course, all the different countries that surround Iran are constantly under threat. And essentially, unlike either one of the students of history between Iraq and Iran, and throughout the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, the UK position seemed to be to balance Iraq and Iran and whilst they fought each other, then all was well. Now, of course, Iraq calls interrupting. It’s no longer able to sustain opposition to Iran. And indeed, we see the Iranian Revolutionary Corps literally deciding to wander in and out of Iraq and other places. These people are the sponsors of terrorism world, whether it’s Hamas, Hezbollah, or Islamic jihad, every terrorist that stems really effectively from Iran. The moment in my view is the balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and of course, we the west are allied effectively with Arabia against the clutches of Iran. Then we have the issues of the Emirates, and we have the position of Iran wishing to dominate and be the superpower in the region. Now, as I mentioned, the recent election in Iran, so the record low turnout in the elections, and the election of the notorious president, who of course, was the architect of the basically ethnic cleansing back in the 98 massacres. Some of those people, of course, escaped to tell this, but the reality is love political prisoners, and they were all executed for political so-called political crimes. And this is the man now effectively in charge of Iran. That has to be a very worrying sign. I, you know, during the recent elections, it’s to be as an outside observer, who could be the most extreme of the candidates in order to get elected. We have the suppression of human rights in Iran, we have the suppression of women and women’s rights in Iran. And I think that that’s something that we have to keep making sure that people understand. We have the threats, obviously, from the IRGC, not only to shipping but also other land travel across the region. So, all of that has to be combative. And I take a strong view, that we should not be rewarding Iran, for its terrorist activities, and for sponsoring quasi terrorism elsewhere, we must be forthright in condemning it, and punishing them for being stuck. And it does seem to me that when the so-called fair deal was signed, Iran was edging towards a position because of the sanctions that were being applied. They’re edging towards a degree of needing to talk on a sensible basis to the west, and they will breathe a great sigh of relief when the five, five countries signed up for this nuclear pact, which I think is well, we’re all now reaping rules because all that did was potentially delay Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And equally, what we do know, and there’s something else that I will share with you. I’ve been a strong supporter of not only the international cause for freedom in Iran but although the only real opposition in Iran, the NCRI, led by Maryam Rajavi, who is exiled in the outskirts of Paris now. In fact, we will host our virtual conference this weekend about the excesses that are once again taking place in Iran. Now, in a relatively recent, and when we actually were able to go physically, there was a threat plot to bond the conference. Now, of course, we are used to the fact that I’m afraid terrorism, terrorist acts, do take place. But this was unique because the bomb was transferred in diplomatic patches, by Iranian officials at their embassy and then handed over in Belgium to two terrorists that were to drive to Paris, pop the bomb close to where Rajavi was due to speak. And they had they been successful. I would not be sitting here today. We would have been all of those of us who are at the conference, as special guests, as delegations from all over the world would have been killed. And so uniquely, of course, that trial has recently taken place. The diplomats have been found guilty. And indeed, I was one of the plaintiffs to that trial. We now say that we can’t trust Iranian embassies, we can’t trust Iranian diplomats. We can’t trust the IRGC, they should all be sanctioned. And their assets were sequestrated and sanctioned across the region. We may get Iran to a situation in which they have a proper democracy where the opposition can organize and can indeed be able to put forward a progressive view of how Iran could operate. No one can say that the elections in Iran are fair. Indeed, all these human rights observers have been barred from entry to Iran to observe these elections, and quite clearly, they are fraudulent. So, I think we could be forthright about this position. And we’ll be hearing more, as I say, this weekend, at all revelations are across the world. And the final point about this about the conference does not only do we have people leading politicians from all over the world, we had American politicians on both sides of the political divide. Republicans and Democrats. We had ex-military members. We had Canadian, very, very senior Canadian leaders, Australians and so on, and indeed, from Saudi Arabia, and other middle eastern states. So, the reality is that had that bomb threat being carried out, I have said that I believe there would have been a war, most certainly, because the American, the American government would not have tried the position. And we’d have had a war directly with Iran because it’s quite clear that Iranian diplomacy and the Iranian system was behind this particular terrorist act. So, I will stop there. Because obviously, I’d like to hear some questions from the audience, I’m sure whatever, lively QA, and have an opportunity to make sure that we, we can answer those questions. But I think it’s quite clear that we want to want to see a fully democratic Iran taking its place in the world, and contributing directly to the economy of the world, and indeed, all aspects of world behaviour. And we should remember that Iran in the United Nations, is inveigled itself to a position of using the non-aligned countries in particular, to gain positions of power, and that power uniting nations is a real concern. But as I said, I’ll stop there.

Robert Clark  31:27

Thank you very much, Mr Blackman, for your insights and thoughts. We are in total agreement regarding the need to hold the regime to account for violations in international security. And further, the bomb plot, which you referred to, I think, is a powerful reminder that this is a regime that routinely uses diplomats to further their malign instructive intentions. And therefore, it leads to it being increasingly difficult to trust the regime itself. Before we turn to some of the audience questions, perhaps I can just use the chatbox myself and pose the first question to the speakers if I may. And it touches on comments made, both by Jason and Mr Blackman considering the ongoing nuclear discussions between the United States and the E3 attempting to arrive at revivals in the JCPOA. And that’s really what options remain to policymakers both in Washington and in London, to be able to better hold Iranian human rights violations to accounts, but without jeopardizing the potential for the hopeful Iranian nuclear compliance should it arrive? If I can turn to Jason first, please, for that?

Jason Brodsky  32:37

Sure. Thanks for that question. Rob. I think that there are numerous tools. First of all, I think just taking the JCPOA itself, there is nothing in the JCPOA  that prevents sanctions from being imposed for human rights abuses in Iran. But in practice, it has been very difficult to get those sanctions levied, especially in Europe, I might add, and recently in the United States as well because there’s this desperation to preserve the Accord. And its crippling response, as I mentioned in my remarks. So, I think that having sanctions is important in this regard. And I would also, I would slow I would just urge European and US policymakers to slow down on the nuclear deal. Really, it’s the window isn’t closing, okay, I don’t think we should be tethering our policy to artificial dates on the Iranian political calendar, we should be formulating a global coalition to push back against Iran, imposing human rights-related sanctions, and also variety of terrorist sanctions. In addition, we should be trying to really isolate the regime from international organizations and bodies, like the United Nations. I think there was a report the other day that Iran gained a role on the board of the UN Commission for the status of women. I mean, that’s like that, that’s just unacceptable. So, this is part of the problem, the regime gains legitimacy by these seats on board. So that those are the points that I would argue.

Robert Clark  34:21

No, I would agree with that as well, Jason regarding the need to almost put the brakes slightly on the rush it seems to revive a deal at all costs, and that includes these broader issues, including how to address meaningfully human rights violations. Thank you. Nargess, do you have anything to add to that?

Nargess Tavassolian  34:41

Yes, I agree with much of what Jason said. And yeah, I also want to mention that it this good to focus on human rights, targeted sanctions, so on the violators of human rights. There are already some in place I mean but it’s good to focus more on that.

Robert Clark  35:02

Exactly. So, Mr Blackman, maybe from, from a London perspective, from Whitehall on your own experiences and consultations with other conservative members of parliament, how would you see meaningful change being addressed from the UK perspective?

Bob Blackman MP  35:18

Right, just to add to what Jason was saying, as I made in my remarks, Iran has managed to inveigle itself onto many UN committees, and today chairing many of these committees, including, as he, as he said, this Committee on the Rights of Women, which are, when they deny women’s rights in Iraq, a bit ironic, to put it mildly. But perhaps they have a different perspective. I think what we should be looking at, as you said, is targeted sanctions against named individuals who are responsible for these human rights violations, which includes the newly elected president operating, and members of the judiciary, the entirety of the IRGC should be proscribed, and as they say, their assets wherever they may be in western countries, they should be seized. The reality is that what we don’t want to do, and this is the other point if we don’t want generalized sanctions that penalize the people of Iran, who the leadership will then say, “Oh, wait, it’s the evil West. We should rise up against them and destroy the great system.” This is what they do in pointing to the enemies of Iran effectively- so the sanctions should lie on the leaders of Iran, not the people. And that’s, that’s very important. We’ve also got to be assisting those that are in opposition, that are trying to create an environment in which there will be a proper democracy. And that, you know, we’ve gone through some, some people in this may know, Camp Ashraf, and now the camp that has been set up of refugees who fled the country, in, in and around Iran, in other countries. So, I’ve had the opportunity of going to one of these camps and trying to speak to these people gain their freedom effectively. But I want to see freedom for the Iranians. And that’s what we’ve got to get to. And that has to be the whole thrust of our policy.

Robert Clark  37:36

I think, yeah, just building on that slightly from what Mr Blackman said, it really sort of, appears to me, there are three core things that the UK can really hope to achieve here in this space, and pretty much building on what you said, actually, yourself. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee had the report last December, where they supported the US decision several years ago now to describe the IRGC as a terrorist organization. That appears to me that that’s lost some impetus and that sort of lost traction. So, I think that’s an important avenue to reconsider in this debate going forwards. But there’s also the need, where these types of sanctions actually don’t hinder the Iranian people like is the Iranian population who have suffered largely for US sanctions, and it’s the Iranian leadership that ultimately must be held to account not the people. So that’s, that’s incredibly interesting. Again, obviously, the third aspect you mentioned is obviously holding Raisi himself to accounts. Jason quite well put the numerous gross violations of decade’s worth of humans or human rights abuses that Raisi’s proceeded over. So, I think this is really a concern for the UK Government to address actual meaningful change going forwards. And there’s a good question here from the audience from Mr Mark Newman. I’ll ask you a question on your behalf, sir if that’s okay. Mr Newman asks, can the ICC and International Criminal Court in The Hague, can they be engaged to prosecute senior Iranian officials, maybe up to Raisi himself, which we’ve just mentioned, phase involvement in the 1988 death commission? And the second part of that question from Mr Newman is can the World Health Organization, can they be engaged better to offer a humanitarian pathway going forward for the Iranian population? Thank you for that, Mr Newman. I’ll put that first to Jason, please.

Jason Brodsky  39:50

Sure, thanks for that question. I think the first step really is for the five-plus one, most specifically the United States. Germany, France, and the United Kingdom to support an independent inquiry by the United Nations into the executions from 1988 and President-Elect Raisi’s role, as I mentioned in my remarks, the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights has called for such an investigation, as have former UN officials. It’s long overdue. And this would demonstrate to the Iranian diaspora and the Iranian people that the international community is not just focusing on the nuclear file as a relates to the Islamic Republic. And that’s critical. It’s just critical to ensure policy durability, and that that’s going to be important in the months ahead. Rob, I would add to your question on the point of the sanctions, I just wanted to add something, you know, the Biden administration, I think is going to be showcasing that it’s going to be taking a more targeted approach to say, tunes from different from the Trump administration in this respect, focusing on multilateral sanctions and working with allies and partners. That’s critical. But we have seen, and I mentioned in my remarks before, but I just want to zero in on this because it’s so important that the European Union’s sanctions designations for human rights on the Iranian regime are from a different era. They capture the Iranian leadership that in certain positions that’s not they’re not in the same positions anymore. For example, two Chief Justice’s ago Sadegh Larijani is sanctioned in the European Union. Raisi was never sanctioned as when he was chief justice. So that’s just one example of how stale the human rights sanctions list is in the European Union. And part of the paralysis is because of the desperation to preserve the nuclear deal. So, I hope that the most recent tranche of European Union related human rights sanctions will continue. That’s critical, but they’ve got to pick up the pace and consistency on these measures.

Robert Clark  42:16

Thanks, Jason. Nargess, anything you’d like to add to that, please?

Nargess Tavassolian  42:24

Yes, regarding this audience question of can Iran be prosecuted at ICC International Criminal Court? I have to say that, unfortunately, Iran has not joined ICC. So, on this, his case is not referred to the ICC. By the Security Council. There is no chance. But if the case is referred, then yes, it is. But there have been movements. We have some people’s Tribunal for the issues of human rights in Iran, one for the one which happened during the 1980s. And one for the one, which for the protests and the killing of protests, which happened two years ago. So, the documentation is going on, people are trying to get by several people’s courts. So, it’s way step. Maybe it was a formal process. But unfortunately, Iran has not joined ICC. So, it’s not that easy.

Robert Clark  43:37

Can I ask something on the back of that Nargess, you mentioned obviously the I think was it 1500 people were killed in the 2019 protest. You just mentioned the idea of a People’s Court, which has been talked about regarding that. Is there been any development on that? What can you tell us about this?

Nargess Tavassolian  44:02

So, 1500 courts mean different figures were given about the ones who were killed. Amnesty International had its own figure and the 1500 number was given by Reuters based on his sources in the US ministry. And so many cases have been documented. But I have to stress that the documentation is not as easy for a family of one who has been arrested. Many times they are afraid to come and speak to the human rights sources because of the intimidation of the government and the fears that they have from the government. Also, this happens with the Human Rights victims of other events like the Ukrainian plane, which was shot by the IRGC. The families of the deceased, of the ones killed in the airplane have been harassed by the government. For seeking justice, they have been forced to accept compensation. So documentation is going slowly. But it’s going on. Yeah. So, in many cases, there are some of the faces. And some pages are on social media, which are still gathering the information of those people. How many were children? How many were men? How many were women, how were they killed? And you can find these pages, you can follow the pages on the social media on the website of on some human rights centres. But it’s going slowly, but it’s going.

Robert Clark  45:49

Okay. It’s very interesting. Thanks for those additional remarks, Nargess. Miss Blackmon if I can send it to you to address Mark Newman’s question regarding either the ICC or more likely, potentially, the UN Security Council. And also, the second part of his question regarding the World Health Organization, and I suppose that really feeds into broader international or international bodies as well as international organizations who can have an effect or greater effect on the human rights situation in Iran. And really where you see any space for that development, please. Mr Blackman, thank you.

Bob Blackman MP  46:27

There’s obviously a key question here about Iran not joining the ICC. The key point, though, is I think the Security Council would be unlikely to refer this to the ICC, because while the country, Russia, probably would veto it. And then, then that we’d be nowhere. Clearly, there has to be an overwhelming amount of evidence to convince all the madness. I mean, the UK, the United States, and others would obviously, have this referred, but I worry about, you know, which, which countries, it could be China, it could be Russia, or would veto this on the basis of, of potentially the threat to them as also as human rights records. So, I’m afraid, I don’t think it’s likely is my personal view. We do have, of course, you know, a new prosecutor at the ICC. That is a whether he will, he would look at the different options that could be utilized? I don’t know. And I’m not an expert in the ICC. So, I don’t know how that would work or whether it be possible. In terms of the health position. There is evidence that the regime controls the supply of medical aid, and rations them, and small way from anyone that opposes storage, do they use them almost as rewards for those that are combined with the regime, and anyone is in any shape or form or the regime. And there have been many fights, I mean, why we should remember, there’s a lot of dissent in Iran, right now, with strikes going on demonstrations, and they are brutally put down by those people in our staff to medical assistance. You know, we have a regime here that abuses the Human Rights own people. But in order to maintain its literal death grip on power in the country. So this is one of the problems about sanctions, that if we apply sanctions too loosely, then the leadership will just ration the supply of medical aid and other food that is provided to the people of Iran to keep the people compliant. And it’s a very interesting society in which to live right now.

Robert Clark  48:57

Thank you for those remarks. I’ve got I think I’ll take the final question here. Before I invite the speakers just for a closing remark. And the final question, I’m going to ask is from an anonymous attendee, but the question I think is quite interesting, actually. “Thank you to the panel, for the many insights is the election of Raisi, a blessing solely in the sense that it will dispel some Western illusions around uranium moderation and pragmatism?” I think that’s quite interesting. Jason, would you like to kick us off on that, please?

Jason Brodsky  49:33

Yeah, I think that’s a really important question. The short answer is yes. I think we saw during the Ahmadinejad presidency, that there was mobility. There was an ease of an ability to mobilize the international community against the Islamic Republic. But Ahmadinejad is no match for Raisi in terms of repression. Ahmadinejad was a propagandist and a narcissist. Raisi has been accused of mass murder. So, I think that it’s going to be toxic for many Western governments to be engaged with him. And it’s going to help countries like Israel, for Gulf Arab states, as well as members of the Iranian diaspora, the dissident community to mobilize and get policymakers to address these key issues and human rights concerns, I hope, but I think it’s more likely with the working races election, they will rise to the forefront of the debate on Iran. They’re already doing so in the morning after we received the I say this selection results in Iran. Amnesty International is calling for an investigation of Raisi for crimes against humanity. These are the headlines that Raisi has generated. The international community, I should say it’s not used to this because their Ayatollah Khamenei hid behind the forgotten men like Hassan Rouhani, and Javad Zarif, to try to get Western media and Western policymakers to buy into this illusion that reform is possible in the Islamic Republic. And under the current leadership, sadly, it’s not. So, this is what the reality is. And I think that the deep state around the Deep State has become its elected state. And I think that that presents an opportunity for the international community and the regime opposition to mobilize. But I also think it shows a certain level of confidence, as I mentioned before, on the part of Tehran, that it feels it won’t risk anything by putting the most repressive figures as their frontman in the West. And I think the West needs to change that calculates quickly. And if it doesn’t, we’re going to be in for a very rough number of years ahead.

Robert Clark  52:09

Now, I think the last point you made is actually quite pertinent. And, Jason, thank you. Nargess, would you like to add anything to that, please?

Nargess Tavassolian  52:18

Yes, I agree with Jason. And I would say that this is an argument of many Iranian and if I can, if not say all, but many say this is a case. And now the Iranian government can do this play of good police, bad police that like that reformist government is good, and he is trying to do some stuff was then he is he has stolen phone upon him by hardliners. And now it’s better in keeping the government responsible having the face of the government in finance. So, in this case, I agree with you. And with this argument here.

Robert Clark  53:00

How about yourself, Mr Blackman?

Bob Blackman MP  53:02

What is an interesting point is that you know, you elect the most extreme of the extreme candidates that were considered amenable and may have been barred from the election. And so, from that perspective, they almost got to a point whereby they couldn’t have had a more extreme leader in Iran. And it certainly is something where we, who are opponents of the regime, have to keep repeating to policymakers, the crimes that these people are guilty of. So that we bring to the fore, the fact that you can’t ask these people, you know, they aren’t they’ve abused human rights, they massacred people. They keep their own people downtrodden. You can’t trust them. And we have to keep repeating that mantra. So, the policymakers, the West, will just say what, what we can’t do business with these things. And then that brings the whole position to a potential crisis, from which emerge, a resolution that ends the iron grip that the regime of the mullahs had on Iran. And it’s almost what, what happened in the last century with, with CIA, allegedly undermining rest of governments and causing revolutions, I’m here, it’s almost as if they’re causing their own revolution by electing the most extreme leaders. I think it will come to a head as this discussion goes on about a potential nuclear deal. And we have to put the pressure on our leadership to say you can’t trust people don’t do a deal with them under any circumstances, and then a position whereby confrontation will have to take place and regime change can happen in a free and fair way in a proper democracy. Because that’s what ideally what we want to see.

Robert Clark  55:05

Thank you very much. I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank all of the audience members for watching and for submitting the questions. If, if we didn’t get the opportunity to address your questions this time, then, you know, we have so many. So, thank you for submitting them. And we hope to see you next time. If I could just turn to each of our speakers and turn it and thank you for your time today. And if I could just invite you to make your closing remarks or final thoughts. Nargess, would you like to have a closing remark?

Nargess Tavassolian  55:42

Thank you so much. Thank you for this session. Yes. My closing remarks of I think this session from my side is that most of the breach of the rights, which talk about the beginning of the session, happened within their realm of the judiciary, and Raisi as head of the judiciary was responsible and is responsible for the breach of these right for issuing execution sentences against Iran’s obligation under human rights and for other breaches of human rights. And now as I said, having him as a president, I think is not doesn’t bring a good perspective of human rights in Iran, so I don’t think the situation would become any better under his presidency.

Robert Clark  56:35

Jason, thank you for your time. And do you have any final remarks to my place?

Jason Brodsky  56:40

Yeah. Thanks, Rob. And thanks to my co-panellists. I really enjoyed the conversation. I would just conclude on this note. Last week, the UN Security Council had a debate over the implementation of UN Security Council resolution, 2231 which endorsed the Iran nuclear deal. And your service some European ambassadors at the table who were saying that we urge President-Elect Raisi to move to turn a new page and to move around in a different direction. I think that this belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the regime. First of all, he has no unilateral power to do so. That’s the supreme leader. And you have to understand who are the decision-makers in the Islamic Republic? That’s number one. Number two, he has no impetus to do so he has no interest in doing so we listen to his words, look at his record, he is accused of mass murder. And I think the international community really needs to be treating Iran for what it is not what it hopes it to be. There is no reform that is possible, in my view, under the current leadership of the Islamic Republic, they have an interest in regime preservation and elevating figures like Raisi, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i as the Chief Justice are putting the most repressive figures in place in place to for an eventual leadership transition that will occur to ensure the Islamic Republic survival. And given those adjustments in the regime architecture, the international community needs to adjust its approach and try and stop trying to recreate a reality from 2015 that doesn’t exist.

Robert Clark  58:28

Thank you, Jason. That’s a very interesting distinction to be made. When engagement with Iran, concerning what the West would like Iran to become, and very much what the regime is, and troubling to me will continue to do. So. Thank you, Mr Blackman. And thank you for your time. And can I invite you to make your final remark, please? Thank you, sir.

Bob Blackman MP  58:48

Yes, I think very sadly, I think the election demonstrates that things are going to get worse, not better. The reality is that this regime is so determined to enforce on its own people and across the region, its tentacles. I think they will be even more adventurous. I think they’ll be attempting to gain control and power of various different states around them. I suspect that they’re going to use military power if they can and that there’ll be internal repression, as well. So, things will get worse, that regard does mean that we should not be negotiating any new agreement with them. I think we I think that the agreement was breached, what, six years ago now was pretty flawed anyway, and shouldn’t have signed up to it. I think from that perspective, we’ve got to review where we go and how we approach this quite clearly trying to deal with Iran. The way that we would deal with any other state is incorrect. We have to recognize it for what it is. I think for those of us, as I said, that serve as enemies of the regime, we must keep repeating points of how evil they are, and how evil the leadership is within that regime, and to policymakers so that we can get a change of policy. I think we need targeted sanctions, I think we need to proscribe the IRGC in its entirety. So that there is no, there is no wriggle room for them whatsoever. And they recognize that, and I think that bodies like the United Nations, we’re going to have aches and diseases. There’s a question in the, in the Q&A, I noticed about that, about the structure of the United Nations and outbreaks, I think we’ve got to get in the West, much more serious about how we enter a relationship with the non-allied nations. If we’re going to maintain the United Nations in any shape or form, then actually we’ve got to get we in the West have got to gain more influence with those unaligned nations and exercise that leadership right across the United Nations. Otherwise, we’re going to get to a point whereby using nations ceases to be a practical proposition to advance what it was originally intended to do. I think we got to be very rigorous about reviewing what we do at the United Nations, what money is put in and for what purposes. And just be very clear that we are not trying to sanction a vision whereby countries like Iran, with their current leadership, with the role of the mullahs, are able to advance their agenda, and indeed, advance potentially, their agenda to other Islamic countries, because that is another danger that other countries could see this as a route to follow, and not be the open countries they currently are. So, I think there’s a real threat here, we’ve got to examine and combat and instead of signing up to them, and almost trying to reach deals with them, recognizing the fact that we can’t do business with these people. And that is salient I think, all of us in the West and for policymakers to understand. And as I say, we must keep repeating the mantra, because we need to convince our policymakers and leaders of the wisdom of this direct pressure.

Robert Clark  1:02:34

thoughts. That’s very well. Mr Blackman, thank you for those last few remarks. I think they sum up quite well, actually, in particular, the need to remind exactly what type of regime the nature of this regime is, both internationally, which threatens British and American security interests. Also, not just regionally but domestically as well. And the human rights situation in Iran absolutely should be at the forefront of wider discussion and consultation with the regime in dealing with anything such as the nuclear deal and wider attempts to reinvigorate it. So, thank you all to my speakers, Jason, Nargess, and, Bob, thank you for your time. And thank you to all of you watching at home. But Bye for now. Thank you.


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