A discussion with Iranian human rights lawyer who has fought numerous women’s and children’s rights cases in Iran, Mohammad Mostafaei; Norwegian politician and Vice President and of the International Federation of Liberal Youth, Naomi Ichihara Røkkum; and Chair of ‘Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights’ (TIHR), an activist group that gathers independent information on the state of human rights in Turkmenistan, Farid Tuhbatullin, address the 3rd Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.
Mohamad Mostafaei: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
Today, since this morning, we have been listening to a number of voices – people who have all been victims of violations of human rights, millions of people who have voices who are being expressed through these people. Venezuela, Sudan, Uganda, voices coming from other countries as well, where the governments are oppressing their people; where they are violating the human rights of these people, and in Iran, this is no exception.
I have witnessed many presentations today and I heard about so many horrible things, that I almost forgot my own said events. There are many violations of human rights in many countries, violations of human rights in North Korea, Palestine, Syria, in Saudi Arabia and many other countries as well. Most of these countries are muslim countries, and Iran is, once again, not an exception to this.
Iran is a country where those in power, The Powers That Be, came into control 30 years ago by looting the people, by grabbing the wealth of the country and exerting its influence over the people. And when we were talking about Egypt, it was said that Egyptians are right to be afraid, they should fear that their revolution will be stolen. 30 years ago in my country, there was a revolution, thousands of people were killed, thousands were tortured, thousands were imprisoned – there was a revolution, and everyone thought that after, the Islamic Republic would be set up and everything would be better. The Iranian people thought that with revolution, with Imam Khomeini, all these violations of human rights that we had experienced under the Shah would come to an end, and everything would work out, that people would be given their freedom, the women would have the same rights as men, that there would be no further executions. But after this Islamic Revolution, not only were the people denied their rights and their hope, but the situation became even worse in relation to the time of the Shah.
After the Revolution, many groups expressed their views but rallied round to Khomeini, and he surrounded himself with extremists and then he started to repress and kill dissidents. If during the lifetime of the Shah someone had been guilty of a political crime, the person was imprisoned and tortured. But after the Shah, during Khomeini, the dissidents of the Islamic Republic were imprisoned, they were tortured for long periods of time, but we noted that there were an increasing number of executions
Our revolution did not speak about stoning people – there were no executions before the revolution of minors. Women were freer, they had social freedom. But after the Revolution and after Khomeini came to power, his followers, who were Islamist extremists, influenced him and the situation became more horrible than we could have imagined. Khomeini said he was going to set up a government that would distribute free water, gas and electricity to the entire population, but at the present time, the situation is much worse than it ever was before.
We have all been witness to the fact that after the 2009 elections, the leaders attacked the people who were demanding greater freedom. There were four candidates for the presidency: Mr. Rezaee, Mr. Ahmadinejad, Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Amongst these candidates to the presidential elections, Mr. Mousavi was the favourite, it was clear, and we thought he would get the greatest number of votes. But unfortunately, since the regime is a dictatorial regime, and the dictators wanted Mr. Ahmadinejad to remain in his position, they rigged the elections and they falsified the counting and he was not elected. The two candidates obviously protested, the ones who were not chosen, and the people took to the streets but unfortunately their voices were not heard, and as you know, many people died, many people were imprisoned and following these demonstrations, many people were tortured. And the two candidates who wished to defend democracy in Iran have been arrested and are under house arrest, and they are being watched.
I was a lawyer in Iran and I wanted to represent women and children and defend their rights. So, I accepted a certain number of cases concerning violations of their rights. I accepted a number of cases, one concerning stoning. I was against stoning and I spoke up against it and I’d written a great deal of articles about it. When the atmosphere had become somewhat more relaxed, I had written an article against stoning people to death, and in the last case that I defended, I was able to sensitize the world to this problem, and draw the world’s attention to the fate of those who were victims of human rights violations.
Madam, you’ve heard of [First Name] Hamadi but know that there are many others – there are hundreds of others in the country. I started to work against the execution of minors, of children, and I defended a large number of children, and you will see that I defended forty minors who were sentenced to death, and I was able to save 18 of them, 18 of the 40. I was active day and night; I struggled to have the voices of the victims heard – those whose human rights were being violated. To defend women, to defend children, to defend journalists, social activists, I was very busy. But unfortunately, in the end, I became a victim. I had to leave my country and ask for asylum in another country so that I could continue my work, but outside of the country.
I am not happy to be outside of my country. I’m not happy about having to speak outside of my country. But I am pushing myself, I forced myself to make my voice heard. I was very happy to defend people’s lives and I would have been happier to be able to continue that in Iran, but it was no longer possible.
When I talk with the politicians, they ask me, ‘what can we do? What can we do to help Iran?’ And when I say, and I will repeat it here now, as long as Western decision-makers, governments, who claim to defend human rights give priority to their economic and financial status and forget, or put human rights on the back burner, then crimes will continue to be perpetrated, we will continue to see crimes committed in Egypt, Sudan, Korea. But, if these Western countries, who say that they defend human rights, if these States stress the need to defend human rights, if they realize that the third millennium is that of human rights of peace and security, then third world countries, Muslim countries, countries that are currently under the yoke of dictatorship, will learn to respect human rights as well.
Moderator, Naomi Ichihara Røkkum: Thank you very much. I think that people can start writing down questions, I will start off with the first, going on the last point, which also Fareed also talked a little bit about, which is when nations have national economic interests, for example gas in Turkmenistan’s case, or oil in Libya’s case, how do you think that governments could combine, how do you think that Western governments should act differently? Because now we see that several Western governments are hiding behind all these beautiful pictures of them shaking hands with Gaddafi and other dictators. How do you think that Western governments, or other governments, should handle this dilemma that they’re put in?
Farid Tuhbatullin: We meet up with representatives of the EU and other leaders, with people from the business world and our feeling unfortunately, is that, well, the EU considers human rights to be very important and do their best to create democracies. But, at the same time, the EU needs gas, especially following the attitude of Russia, because we can no longer rely on Russia to deliver what Europe needs. We have to see what the mood of the President is; we cannot ask for gas and then at the same time put pressure on him. For prisoners to be released, other actions [need] to take place, which could be harmful to those in power. Those are the facts.
Nonetheless, I think that all countries should consider this: we are closing our eyes to human rights violations. But if they continue, if they spread, then matters will become very complicated, not only in Turkmenistan, but in Iran and in all countries where dictatorships rain.
Mohamad Mostafaei: Iran has a government that is very rich, as you know. We have a great deal of gas and oil, we have craftswork, we have a lot of mineral wealth as well. And the government relies on this wealth, needs this wealth, and a great deal of it is controlled by the police forces and the militia in Iran, and it is thanks to all this wealth that the country can be kept under control. After the elections, there were a lot of pressures put on it and the country was not able to recover the legitimate rights that they had lost. And one of the reasons for which the people have not been able to is due to the pressure carried out by the military, by the police, by the militia, and once again I can say that these are groups that are kept in power because of the fact that they have control over the country’s wealth.
This is not only the case in Iran; they have power outside of the country as well. You know that this country, thanks to its natural wealth, has influence in neighbouring countries. Iran pays for a number of sympathisers to live in other countries and they don’t criticise, they won’t dare to criticise the human rights situation in Iran. And so this is based on wealth, and when the power is that of a dictatorship, there are many victims. We have noticed similar situations in other countries as well.