The Iranian Struggle for Freedom: A Call for Global Solidarity with Alireza Akhondi, Dr. Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg, Hillel Neuer, Hadrien Ghomi, Ali Ehsassi

A panel including Member of the French National Assembly outspoken for victims of repression in Iran, Hadrien Ghomi; Mayor of Frankfurt and former political prisoner in Iran, Dr. Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg; Member of the Swedish Parliament and leading campaigner for the EU to designate the IRGC as a terrorist entity, Alireza Akhondi; and Member of the Canadian Parliament and Chair of Foreign Affairs Committee, Ali Ehsassi; discuss the ongoing protests in Iran and the international community’s role with Hillel Neuer at the 15th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full remarks.

Full Remarks

Hillel Neuer 

Well, we just witnessed one of the most courageous young women in the world. We saw in the fall, in September, October, November, thousands of women, girls, men, who had the courage to stand up in Iran and defy the regime and face the bullets. And Shima Babaei did this five years ago. She was, as we heard, recognized by the President of France, in November, in a very important meeting. And with her was someone in Roya Piraei, a young woman, who was, you might say, emblematic of the struggle taking place in Iran. Her mother was at a protest. She was shot in the back. Many, many bullets. And Roya was mourning for her mother at the cemetery and cut off her hair. It was an iconic picture. And these are the scenes that we witnessed in September, October, November. And the world was jolted by what seemed like one of the most compelling human rights causes of our time. To see women and girls, young and old, leading the protests, having the courage to remove the hijab, and standing on the streets knowing that they might be shot. And we’ve seen women blinded. One of the women we wanted to bring here was Elahe Tavakolian, who was blinded in one eye. She’s now having surgery in Italy. She wasn’t able to come here. Really incredible people. So this is what we’re dealing with in a nutshell, in our panel today.

I hope that we will do three things. We have a distinguished panel that I’ll introduce in a moment. I want to first understand what is this regime. I don’t think everyone here in Europe or in America really understands this regime. People still think you can engage with this regime. Here across the street, we had to reveal last week the absurd news, the shocking news, that the United Nations Human Rights Council President appointed this regime, their representative, to be the president, to be the chair, of the UN Human Rights Council Social Forum in November, which is going to deal among other things with human rights and technology after they hanged two people for criticizing religion, the government on social media. So some people – and I didn’t blame the President personally because he said he only received one nomination and so forth. But the system at the United Nations didn’t find it shameful, shocking, that Iran regime could be appointed to this position. So it seems like many in the world don’t sufficiently understand what this regime is about. So we’re going to first look at the human rights situation in Iran. Afterwards, talk about what we can do about it, what we need to do about it. We, governments in the free world. And try to look what what might be a future Iran post-regime.

We have an eminent panel with us here. Let me introduce them. To my right is Hadrien Ghomi. He is a member of the French Parliament, Assembée Nationale. He’s been central to France’s response to the protests in Iran. He’s a first term MP from the governing Renaissance Party. He sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, serves as party whip. In the wake of the mass protests, following the death of Mahsa Amini in Iranian custody – she’s the young woman who was arrested for improper hijab, beaten, basically killed. Mr. Ghomi introduced a resolution to support the Iranian people in their courageous struggle. It was adopted unanimously in November 22. I’ll also mention something that I was following when I first learned more about Hadrien was that Iran was elected two years ago, this regime, to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and was about to take its seat and we led a campaign for two years that picked up in the fall, the United States Government picked it up, introduced a resolution to expel the regime from the Commission on the Status of Women, the Women’s Rights Commission. It never happened before. There was no procedure, but they introduced the resolution. And we didn’t know how countries would vote. Some governments, the Dutch government said, “Well, it’s not very nice, and is this the right way to do things. And maybe we should engage and be nice to them and it won’t be effective.” We didn’t know how European governments would vote. And I saw that Hadrien in the Foreign Affairs Committee, when the Foreign Minister came he took the initiative, he asked the question, and for the first time we heard that France would vote to expel Iran. France would vote indeed to expel Iran. Vote no to them being being on the Commission. He holds degrees in public policy, politics and law from Science Po Lille, School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, and Panthéon-Sorbonne University.

Next to Hadrien is the Mayor of Frankfurt, Dr. Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg. She’s born in Tehran. As a young woman that she dared to protest the regime against their policies discriminating against women. She demonstrated for women’s rights and reform. This is a number of years ago. She was arrested, locked up in the horrific Evin Prison. I’ll be asking her shortly more about that. Tell us what she went through. Recently, a film came out that her daughter wrote to tell the story that her daughter was born in Evin Prison. So, Dr. Narges Eskandari-Grünberg, as a young woman actually gave birth in Evin Prison. We’ll hear more about that. In 1985, she fled from Iran to Germany. She’s lived in Frankfurt ever since. She studied psychology, received her doctorate, established her own practice as a psychological psychotherapist. She has done very important work with the German Red Cross. She’s helping other refugees, other political prisoners. In the city of Frankfurt, she has served as city councilor, member of the magistrate, head of the department for integration head of the department for diversity, anti-discrimination and social cohesion. She is now the Mayor of Frankfurt. As far as I know, the only immigrant mayor of a major city in Europe. She used her position to name a street, as I mentioned, the street where the Iranian consulate sits in Frankfurt after Mahsa Amini. And she took her time to come very early in the morning to be with us. Really, really appreciate that.

Next to the mayor is my good friend in combat, Alireza Akhondi. I say that because I invited him here to Geneva. He invited me here to Brussels. We’re trying to fight the good fight together. He is a member of the Swedish parliament, committed to supporting the people of Iran, where he’s born. He emigrated to Sweden in 1992, has been a member of the Parliament there since 2018. Sits on the Civil Affairs Committee, and the Center Party’s National Party Board. Mr. Akhondi has been devoted to social issues relating to freedom, equality and human rights. He supported Serbia and Greece during the refugee crisis, organizing aid shipments from private donations. He helped Ukraine last year in their humanitarian efforts following Putin’s invasion. Since the protests in Iran, he’s been a leading figure in Europe, leading the campaign to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the notorious IRGC, as a terrorist entity under EU law. I’ll also mention that in March, when the Foreign Minister of Iran came to the Human Rights Council across the street, and met with – he addressed the Council, the Secretary General met with him and the High Commissioner met with him and they posed for pictures – Alireza led a walkout that was seen around the world. It was a major message that he sent, very important.

Finally, and not least, my fellow Canadian, Ali Ehsassi is a member of the Canadian Parliament. He’s chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. It’s not easy to leave those obligations and be with us, make the long trip. Really means a lot. He’s the son of an Iranian diplomat, obviously from the ancien regime, the former government. He was actually born here in Geneva, raised in New York and Tehran. He and his family emigrated from Iran following the revolution in 1979. Settled in Canada. He was elected to the parliament in 2015, has been chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee since June 2022. Over the course of his career, he’s never abandoned his heritage and the plight of the people in Iran. He’s been the leading figure condemning the regime’s abuses, urging Canada to refrain from supporting their terrorist agenda. An outspoken supporter of the Iranian people.

Really appreciate all of you being here. Let me go for our first round to ask the mayor. You’ve had some very powerful personal experiences, not unlike what Shima and some others have experienced. Could you tell us a little bit about your experience? What got you arrested and put in prison in Iran so we can understand a bit more about this regime.

Dr. Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg

First of all, thank you so much for the invitation. It’s such a great place to be here and it’s really my honor to be here. It’s really interestin too. So what happened, it’s more than 37-38 years ago. I was 18 years old. As I came arrested in the prison in Iran. Most of the people of the world they know the name of famous prison in Iran, Evin. That was really a very hard time. The average age of the young women in that prison was like 17-18 years old. We lived in less than seven square meters in a room together. There was no place even really to sleep. I was pregnant. My daughter, she came – she was born in prison. I had been there for more than half a year.

Now, when I look, more than 20,000 prisoners are in Iran, in prison. In the same situation they are fighting for democracy. Shima said for just a normal life. They are fighting, to have freedom, for dancing, for kissing, to be unrestrained. They want to show their hair. And all of this is similar. I think the values –  all of these rights, the human rights – it was not possible. I was in prison that time and now how terrible is this time. I’m all the time thinking about the people in that time. And I know that the situation never changed in more than 37 years. And I’m very happy to be here, to be the voice of those ones, to be the voice of the prisoners, to be the voice of democracy. I escaped from Iran to Germany with my daughter. She was two years old. We didn’t know anybody in Germany. We came on Christmas Eve to Germany, on a very, very cold night. And we didn’t know even where can we go or how. Nobody – you know, Christmas Eve everybody is with family. And for me, it was a very difficult situation because I lost my family in that time. To be with a small child in the country was really hard. Now when I’m looking back, it’s a long time ago. Now I am the Mayor of Frankfort. Now, again, and again, after so many years, I’m fighting for freedom, and fighting for democracy. I am fighting for human rights.  And I’m very happy that we are fighting together on the united women. Human rights need to be united. I’m really very happy to be the voice of these women.

Hillel Neuer 

Thank you, Mayor. You experienced terrible things and you’re committing your life to helping those who need help most. I want to ask you if I could when you were a young woman at the age of 17-18, were all your friends demonstrating? What prompted you to go out and take those risks?

Dr. Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg

We were demonstrating for democracy. I know this picture. All the time I have it in my head. We had just a paper, standing in the street and the paper was written, you know, children, young and teenagers, for democracy, for freedom. And I think – when I think about that, I didn’t even know what is democracy and freedom because we had never had in Iran democracy and freedom. But we knew maybe it is something very valuable, knew it’s something very important. And that was the reason all of the young people after the Iranian revolution, they go to the street and fighting for that. And the terrible things after two years, Iranian regime, they knew that they have to exist. They have with torture, that murdering put all the young people in the prison. That’s the only way that they could exist. And they started very, very early to do it. In that time, there were I can tell you more than thousands of young people. They were murdered in jail, in prison. Every night, as we were there in prison, we counted, you know, how many people were murdered in a night. And sometimes they were like 20-30, 40-50, a lot. And the average age was like 20, like today. And I think when you’re thinking about that today, what the young people, what did they want, they wanted just to live in freedom. They wanted to have the values, the values we have in Europe. The values that we have and that we are proud to have. That was the point that young people were fighting for freedom. And now I think, the time doesn’t change, but I’m really very happy.

Since September, a lot of young people, they are going on the street, they show their hair, they cut their hair. So we are here. And I think as a woman, I can tell you, that it’s the first women revolution in the world and they don’t have any weapons, except their braveness. Except their motivation to change. They don’t have any weapons. They are going, they dance, they sing and say, “We want to be free. And I think when we saw it, the time doesn’t change. But I think – I really have a great hope that now it could change it. And now we are here. And I think it’s really important. I’m the Mayor of Frankfurt. A lot of countries in Europe, in Canada, in America – I think it’s really important to isolate this regime. It’s very important that all of the countries stop the economic relationship to the regime because the only way that this revolution can win that’s the support from the European, Canadian, American countries. And I hope that we are here with the same – you can change it about what happened in our countries, what happened in Iran, in other countries. And I think when we could be united against such a terror regime, I’m sure we could win. It takes time but I think that’s the only way that we could win. And I think it’s very important to be the voice of the people, to be the voice of the brave women and men in Iran, in other countries. And I’m very happy this united, this voice can go out after this Summit today.

Hillel Neuer 

Thank you, thank you.

Hadrien, help us understand a bit maybe what changed. We had a number of years ago in the 1980s, women protesting, thrown in prison. The world didn’t really react in a strong way. Iran, the regime, was never removed then from the Women’s Rights Commission. There wasn’t a President’s meeting of the opposition. Then we had five years ago Shima Babaei standing up. Also, the world didn’t really respond. You had 2019. Suddenly now, the world is responding. What is happening in Iran that suddenly now the world wakes up somewhat.

Hadrien Ghomi 

First of all, can you read me? Yeah. First of all, I would like to thank you Hillel Neuer and Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy for inviting us to talk about this crucial topic. Crucial topic about human rights in Iran. Of course, obviously, for the Iranian people but not only. Because we saw before the impact of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 on many other countries. So that impact – so we hope that it will be a good impact on other countries about human rights. This is the first point.

Since 1979, human rights have been violated. Political opponents have been censored, tortured, prosecuted, killed. And, of course, for decades, women have been held back by discrimination in laws and in practice. The regime, for example, enforced hijab wearing, as you know, with whippings. That’s real, that’s the reality. In fact, they aggravate the situation. And that’s what is very interesting right now. Because, for example, there were many protests in the past. For example, in 2009, it was the stolen election, which was the main cause of the protests. Later, in 2019, it was the rise in prices. But right now, we can see that it’s the regime. This is the institution of the regime, of the Islamic regime, which is targeted by the opponents. And the death of Mahsa Amini was the symbol of these protests. We remember that she died for an alleged breach of the Islamic rules. And the Iranian people said enough is enough. And in response to this protest, we saw that the security forces killed hundreds of people, hundreds of women, men, children. Also, they injured thousands of people. Many people have been arbitrarily detained because they peacefully exercised their human rights. So, we are now in a full-fledged human rights crisis. That’s the difference with before. Today, people are fighting to bring an end to discriminatory laws and practices against women and girls. They are fighting for inclusion and equality. And that’s why we need to support them as MPs.

Hillel Neuer 

Thank you. We’re going from France, let’s go across the ocean. Let’s go to Canada. Ali, you have a unique perspective because your family was serving the former republic, former government. That’s actually why you were born in Geneva and lived in New York because your father served, represented, Iran at the United Nations. You have a particular perspective on what this regime is like, unlike the others. Canada certainly has become more engaged since everything is happening. What’s your sense of what’s going on in Iran today?

Ali Ehsassi 

Well, first of all, hello. I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart, because you’ve had 15 summits and every single one of those summits, you have focused on the dire human rights situation in Iran. So very, very grateful for that. Also, in addition to that, as everyone knows full well, you have been engaged on this issue over the course of the past eight months working on a number of different initiatives.

But you’re asking me about the 70s. I would say that Iran of the 1970s was a drastically different country than what we have seen over the course of the past 44 years. It would be no exaggeration for me to say the my earliest memories was that in the 1970s, the Iranian delegation at the United Nations was very, very avant-garde, when it came to issues pertaining to women. In 1974, Iran was the second country in the world that had appointed a minister responsible for women’s affairs. So it was the French who did it first in 1973. And in the following year, Iran did so as well. But in the 1970s, what the Iranian delegation at the UN was very much focused on was to put in a bid and to make sure that Iran could host the United Nations Conference on issues pertaining to women in 1980. Because back then, every five years there was a UN Conference. And given all the lobbying that did take place, they did succeed. But of course, what happened is, the revolution followed. And, of course, the Conference at the UN was moved elsewhere.

But having lived in Iran in those early years, what I think is very important for everyone to recognize is that the first segment of society in post-revolutionary Iran that stood up to the regime, demanding it’s rights, were women. There were numerous marches on the streets when women heard that the new regime wanted to impose the hijab on women. And they stood up to the government. And, unfortunately, as has been the experience of all Iranians for the past 44 years, they did not succeed, and it was imposed on them.

But I think it’s fair to say, given all the bravery, all the courage, we have seen over the course of the past eight years, that the Islamic Regime is in its twilight. What we do know is that a poll was recently conducted, and 80% of Iranian said that they were absolutely done with the theocracy in Iran. So in the old days, I think a lot of Western capitals had this illusion that within the Iranian regime, there were reformers, and there were conservatives. I’m here to say, that is not the case. That is a charade. And that Iranians fully recognize that the theocracy in Iran is incapable of reform, and that they have just driven the country into the ground. They suffocate civic rights. The economy is a basket case. And Iranians are fed up and want to make sure that they see an end to this regime. So I certainly hope international organizations and world capitals recognize that they should be preparing for a post-theocracy in Iran.

Hillel Neuer 

Alireza, you’ve been criss-crossing all across Europe, helping mobilize thousands of people to show up in Strasbourg and Brussels and many other places. What prompted you to become so active? What was happening in Iran that said to you, you need to take this leadership role.

Alireza Akhondi 

Freedom, for me, is universal. Freedom is a basic human right. Freedom is worth fighting for. Freedom is worth making sacrifices for. When I saw the brutal death of Mahsa Jina Amini, some sparks were light in my heart, I thought to myself, enough is enough. Enough is enough. We have lost two generations. Two generations of well-educated women and men who have been robbed off every human right possible. They have lost their dreams, their hope, their trust for a brighter future.

I want to start to say that I’m honoured to be in this room with so many freedom fighters who work every day to make this world a little bit better. But – there’s a but – we need to do more. We need to show solidarity and collective action. We need to hold the Iranian government accountable for their crimes against humanity every day. Today, the Iranian regime will execute two persons. Today, while we are sitting here, two young people are going to be executed. Their crimes? Nothing else but fighting for what we in this room sometimes take for granted.

Iranian Presidency over the UN Human Rights Summit is a shameful act for the international society. It’s shameful. Where is the human dignity? Where is the Charter of Human Rights?

The Iran issue is not the conflict far away. The Iranian regime have committed murder here in Europe. Right now, they are providing the Russian army with ammunition and suicide drones for killing innocent civilians. Iranian regime are active in Syria, in Iraq, in Lebanon. There are providing Hamas, Jihad and other terrorist organization with rockets that are bombarding the Israeli religious across the borders. Iranian regime are mining for bitcoins every day through digital currencies. They are going around the sanctions that we are deciding about in the European level. During these past months, we have had two resolutions in the European Parliament. We’ve had seven sanction packages decided by the European Council. But we need to do more. Empty words are not enough for the woman who was imprisoned when she was 17 or 18. Empty words are not going to bring Nika, Sarina, Zakaria, Parsa, Ehsan, Kian back to life. 74 children have been killed since September last year. We need to do more. And we need to do this together.

Hillel Neuer 

Thank you, Alireza. Look, people listen to you and they see what’s happening in Iran. And the question is, what do we do about it? How do we make a difference? How do we fight back? What must we in the free world do to stand up for our values? And there’s debates. Governments have – we hear different things. I’ll come back to the mayor. Mayor, you took a stand, you took an action that sent a very important message. What do you think? What do you think our governments can do? In Germany? In the European Union? in the free world? What – How do we fight back?

Dr. Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg

The problem is always we’re talking about our values. These values is really, really important in Europe, in Canada, in America. But unfortunately, we see in the last years, our values, they are not, you know, in the first stage in play in our main relationship to this country. Economic relationships, they are really more important than the rights and values rights and the human rights. I know, for example, in my country, in Germany, we’re for more than 25 years, is the rank of the third one in economic relations to Iran. And it’s still like that. Like I think two months ago, it was exhibition on true fair trade in Düsseldorf in Germany. The Iranian government was represented there. They could, you know, sell everything, they could make exports and imports in Germany. And that’s, unfortunately, the problem. It’s that all of the countries, they do it. And until you have this relationship, and you’re talking about the human rights, I think that’s a conflict. And we cannot accept to say, “Okay, it’s really very bad. You’re, you know, hurting all of the human rights, women rights. But forget it, we need gas, we need a relationship, we need industry.” I think that’s a problem we have to really, in the next years or next time, to take care of that. When really we want to fight for human rights, we have to stop the economic relationship to Iran. We have to stop seeing all of the Counselor general, all of the politician people, they are still in Germany, and Europe. And I think very, really, our right is serious. We have to stop it. Because the only chance that we have to win is to isolate Iranian regime. And I think that’s really important. It’s maybe similar to other countries. But I think that Iran is really very important. Because all the time Iran says, “Okay, you’re talking about human rights, whatever. We have our relationship. We have exporting, importing.” And I think that’s really very difficult.

When you’re dealing with this country, we are going to lose. And I think it’s really important that we have to really say, that’s a revolution. That’s its a woman revolution. That’s its a revolution of human rights. And really, when it’s our values – we did it with Ukraine, the same thing. It takes a long time that we say about Ukrainians, to say they are fighting for our values,  and now we stop everything with Russia. That’s great. It’s happened. Nobody could believe it, that this could happen. Why we didn’t do it with Iran, the same thing? And I think that’s the only chance that we have. Human Rights, the values, that’s really then important when we are going to be really serious, to stop politicial, economic, all of the relations to ground, then we can say we are fighting for human rights. What we are doing is just talking and nothing more. And that is my demand on the countries, European countries. Please stop this, to support this regime. Please stop to support Iranian terrorism. Then when we stop it, we are going to win for human rights. We are going to win for women rights.

Hillel Neuer 

Hearing you, I’m reminded of the words of a famous Iranian activist, who actually received our Women’s Rights Award a number of years ago here, Masih Alinejad. She said, “We’re not asking you in the free world to save the Iranian people, we will fight. But we’re asking you not to save the regime.” And what you’re saying is that we are doing business with the regime. Like with Putin, we were giving him billions of dollars for the gas and the oil and we’re giving money to Iran. We are empowering, we are letting them go. Before I conclude with you on this, I just want to ask you naming the street, that must have given a very important message and symbol, naming a Mahsa Amini street in Frankfurt. Could you say a few words about what that meant for people?

Dr. Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg

It was really very important. You know, the Iranian consulate general is in this Ryman Street. And all of the people – we have hunger strikes. We have the Iranian people, days and nights they slept there, all the time present in the street. We had the idea, we want to have another name. The new name has to be Jina Mahsa Amini. I’m the mayor. You cannot change the name of street from now to tomorrow. And we had the idea. We put the name on the street. And then we did it. Interesting was, the general consulate of Iran, they put construction in the entrance, you know, and they wanted to stop it, that we cannot put the name on the street. We say – because I’m the mayor, I can do it. I with a lot of very brave activists, we put the name on the street, like five centimeters before the entrance of Consulate General. And now yesterday, the activists they called me, they have to you know, to wash them. And I say no, we don’t need to wash them, they can still stay. And I hope one time the street, really the name of the street, in Germany in Frankfurt, will be Jina Mahsa Amini, women revolution. I’m fighting for that. That’s a good sign, that’s a good symbol, and we are fighting.

Hillel Neuer 

Hadrien we heard about Germany. Tell us the perspective from France. Where do we go from here? How can the free world in France and Europe stand up and give solidarity to the women the people of Iran?

Hadrien Ghomi 

Yeah. Thank you. We need to do more. But at the same time, we have already done a lot. For example, last November, the President Macron was the first Head of State to describe the movement as a revolution and he hosted four openings in Paris, at the Élysée Palace. Shima Babaei and Masih Alinejad were there. And it was a very important symbol for us, for European people. After November 28th, we voted at the French assembly, at the French Congress. We adopted a motion condemning crackdown on Iranian protests. And we have, as you said before, the fact that we need to exclude Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. France and many other countries voted for it and that’s good news. So, we acted, we need to act more, that’s obvious. But we’ve done many things. And about the economic relationships, I would like to add something about the sanctions from the European Union and the Council of the European Union. Because six packages of sanctions have already been imposed against those responsible for repression on one hand. And on the other end, those for delivering drones to Russia in Ukraine. Actually, it means abandoned travel in the EU for the people who are targeted, freezing Iranian assets held inside the EU, and EU companies are also banned from making funds available to those under sanctions. So, we need to move forward. But we acted, we have already acted.

Dr. Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg

May I add one sentence? I think you’re absolutely right. We fight for them a long time. I think it’s a lot of things happened. But the problem is, it’s not enough. You know, and I’m really afraid – when now Iran it’s silent. The people, they don’t go into the street, then we can stop it. And that’s the thing that’s I’m really afraid of it.

The people will be forgotten because he knows that Iran nothing happened. It has everything. It has the violence. The people, they cannot go on the street. And then all of these activities that really you’re right, and I think we cannot stop it, we have to continue. Maybe one sentence. All of the demonstrations that we have it on the street, I’m really very often very sad. Most of the people they are Iranian, with Iranian roots. You don’t see the German people, you don’t see the Americans, the Canadians. And we are talking about about our values. And I hope and really when it’s serious fighting for the human rights.  The people, they are going on the streets. When the people they cannot go in Tehran, Iran to the street because of the violence, I accept that they are going in the street in Europe, because nobody are going to shut us, nobody, you know, from doing something. And I hope that when we are doing that in all of the Europe and Canada and America, then we can push the governments to do more.  You know, my problem is, in that time when everything is very loud, they do the things. And after then, it’s coming down and stop it. And I hope that we will be  there. I think for me, it’s very important to be here and say don’t stop it. When they are not so loud, we have to be loud here. We have to press our governments. I am part of government, German government. You too in all of your countries. We have to push all of the members of governments not only with Iranian roots, the other ones too. I think that’s the only way we could win. And I agree with you, but we have to go more forward than. Thank you.

Hillel Neuer 

The people will forget. Thank you.

Ali, you’re you’re a member of the governing Liberal Party in Canada. You’re on the foreign affairs – chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. What’s your sense of of where we can go next picking up from what the Mayor said? How do we do more?

Ali Ehsassi 

Well, I think the one important principle we have to bear in mind, not only when it comes to Iran, but when it comes to other autocracies, is that a country that tramples the most fundamental rights of its own people that country will be a menace to its neighbour, to the world. And we should never take them at their word. So that’s one fundamental rule we have to recognize. And a good example of that, of course, is, as we’re watching Ukrainians doing a heroic job, standing up to Russia, who steps into that breach, and provides Russia with drones. It’s the Iranian regime. So why do I say this? I say this, because far too often, I have seen governments assume that they can work out, you know, some semblance of an arrangement with Iran. But Iran has never, ever lived up to any of the international commitments it has undertaken. So that’s the first principle, if I may.

The second principle is, we constantly see authoritarian states cover for each other to make sure that they are not held to account for their atrocities. I think we should learn from that experience, and make sure that countries that share our values are consistently working together, are coordinated, and that they continue to put the pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran, and on the IRGC. These are really fundamental lessons that we should learn, we should stick to. And why do I say this?

Over the course of the past six months or so, we have seen the Iranian regime, again, double down on its policy of hostage taking. They are using these Europeans that they have arrested in Iran as bargaining chips. And it appears to me that each one of these European countries are engaging in one off deals with the Iranian regime. But if they do so, the Iranian regime will continue to arrest as many peace people as they possibly can. So just like we woke up to the travesty that is Russia – and it took us a very, very long time. First, when they attacked Georgia, we ignored it. Then when they went into Syria, and committed a bloodbath, with Islamic Republic, again, we ignored it. Then they attacked Crimea, and most countries in Europe ignored it. But finally, we woke up to the threat that Russia is. I think it’s high time that all of our countries, and anyone who believes in our values, wake up to the fact that the Islamic Republic will continue to be a threat and a menace to international peace and order. And we should listen to the Iranian people and always side with the Iranian people. Thank you.

Hillel Neuer 

Thank you.

We’re, we’re almost out of time. But we have to hear from Alireza. Because, as I said, he’s been at the center of the European Union, speaking of what Ali said, coordinating action. Alireza you’ve been calling for action. What are the actions we need to see from the international community?

Alireza Akhondi 

It depends what the goal is. If the goal is freedom for the Iranian people, then we need to do four things. Provide internet for the people inside Iran, the key spell starlink. Second, thing is to break the regime’s economic infrastructure. And the method is designating IRGC as a terrorist organization so we can work on sanction compliance. And the sanction compliance works with the banking system and the digital currency system. And the third is a global shaming campaign, like the one that we did against the companies who are engaged in Russia. If we do these things, plus political advocacy in different various way to break the chains whenever we get the opportunity, then we are going to give the Iranian people a future, hope. And I want to emphasize something that Ali said. You cannot deal with talks. These people are criminals. If you give them one finger, they will take everything. And we need to do things before Iran becomes a nuclear power. Our window of opportunity is not that big. And we need to act. And the key is not a new deal, not the new JCPOA. So please, bury that idea and do things that brings the freedom to the people inside Iran.

Hillel Neuer 

Thank you, Alireza. Thank you to all of our panelists. We’ve heard testimonies from Shima Babaei, from the mayor. And let us all take these to heart, let’s amplify the message. They’re all going to be on social media on the Geneva Summit, YouTube and Instagram. Share them urge your countries to take action. Let us do everything we can so that the women, the girls of Iran, the people of Iran, who are struggling in the name of women life freedom, our values, can actually see a future Iran that is free and democratic. Thank you very much.

 

Speakers and Participants

Ali Ehsassi

Member of Canadian Parliament, Chair of Foreign Affairs Committee

Alireza Akhondi

Swedish MP campaigning for the EU to list the IRGC as a terrorist entity

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