Toward a Democratic Iran
Address by Hon. David Kilgour, M.P.
Conference on Democratic Change in Iran
December 17, 2005
My dear fellow democrats,
We are all troubled by events in Iran in the past few months. Everything from Iran’s current nuclear policy to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic comments to a Iranian truckload of forged ballots intended for the recent Iraqi elections – all are symptoms of a totalitarian state where democracy and rule of law are harder and harder to come by.
Denial of Facts
Ahmadinejad’s latest comments this past week – essentially saying that the Holocaust is a European myth built to justify the creation of a Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic world – are frightening. The European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, noted recently with vast understatement that the Iranians “do not have the president, or the regime, they deserve.”
This was not the first time Ahmadinejad has made such statements; last October he called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map.’ This is more than a subtle threat from the leader of a country which might soon possess nuclear capabilities.
Such comments denying the Holocaust sound remarkably like ones made by two disgraced Holocaust deniers here in Canada: Ernst Zundel and James Keegstra.
I was once in a taxi in Montreal when the driver noted that Keegstra – who embarrassingly is also from Alberta – was an imbecile. He then proceeded to roll up his sleeve and showed me the number which had been branded onto his flesh at one of the Nazi death camps – a physical manifestation of one of the worst atrocities this world has ever witnessed.
Iranian Human Rights
It seems the international community is finally having its eyes opened to the nature and aims of the Iranian regime. After serving as the effectively appointed Mayor of Tehran since April 2003, Ahmadinejad came to power in the Iranian national “elections” held in June of this year.
It was a victory for those who opposed any social and political reform. Many candidates, including women who wanted to run, were disqualified by Iran’s Guardian Council; it’s really no surprise that it was a hard-liner who won the election. The elections remain highly questionable in their adherence to democratic standards.
In a country where any opposition to the official line is censored through the judiciary and the security force, and anyone who speaks out jailed, a force for democratic change is difficult to maintain. The jails are filled with political prisoners – those sentenced in unfair trials. The role of the ten to fifteen men who still rule Iran in the murder of approximately 30,000 prisoners of conscience in the late 1980s should be investigated by the international community and the U.N.
According to Amnesty International’s (AI) latest country report, many were arrested for the publication of articles or statements which allegedly “endangered national security, or defamed senior officials or religious precepts. The report goes on to state that “arbitrary arrest, denial of legal representation and detention in solitary confinement were responsible for most of the human rights violations reported in the country.” Unfortunately, AI never received replies to their requests to send trial observers in Iran.
The example you are all most familiar with of how far the Iranian regime is willing to take censorship and control of information is the case of Iranian-Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi. Arrested while taking pictures at a student protest in Tehran, she died in July of 2003 after three weeks in Iranian custody. The Iranian regime has yet to come up with a credible story.
As a former physician in Iran’s Defence Ministry, Shahram Azam, witnessed, four days after her arrest, she showed definite signs of torture, including evidence of a brutal rape, broken fingers and toes, severe abdominal swelling and a skull fracture. Dr. Azam has since fled Iran, and now resides in Canada.
It’s no surprise that after changing their story countless times, Iran still refuses to return the body of Ms. Kazemi to Canada. This is just one example of Iran’s refusal to adhere to any international standards of justice, rule of law, freedom of speech or freedom of the press.
The human rights dialogue between the European Union and Iran, which some Iranian groups criticize for its lack of transparency, has become too bogged down to offer any lasting results, resulting in little improvement of respect for human rights.
There has been so little improvement in the human rights situation – and indeed, even a regression – that this past November, the UN General Assembly passed a Canadian-drafted resolution which condemned the country’s human rights situation in their failure to comply with international standards on such issues as discrimination, and due legal process. The resolution also called for an end to “harassment of political opponents and human rights defenders.” Predictably, the allegations were flatly rejected by the Iranian judiciary.
Permit me now to focus on a number of specific human rights issues.
A. Religious Persecution, Women’s Rights and Discrimination
The outgoing parliament passed legislation recognizing religious persecution – as well as giving women more rights, such as equal inheritance rights with men – were passed last year, but the incoming government rejected the changes. The Guardian’s Council refused to have Iran made a party to the UN Women’s Convention.
Women, ethnic and religious minorities, political activists, liberal thinkers and human rights defenders still face discrimination in Iran. Some cannot find a state job due to their religious or political beliefs, a rule created by the gozinesh criteria. The same criteria were used to discriminate against about 3,500 perspective candidates – including women, pro-reform candidates, a variety of ethnic and religious minorities, and even about 80 incumbent parliamentarians – in the parliamentary elections earlier this year.
The new appointments for the powerful positions of Minister of the Interior, Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi, and Minister of Information, Gholamhussein Mohseni Ezhei, are further expanding repressive measures against critics and dissidents. Both have been implicated in grave human rights violations over the last few decades, raising fears about the safety for political reformists and human rights activists.
Ahmadinejad’s choices for these two Ministerial positions
will serve to ensure that the discrimination which continues to be a source
of social and political unrest will also continue as a source of human
B. Freedom of Expression
The social and political climate continues to
sour for those wishing for democratic change, especially with
Ahmadinejad now in power, and his
latest Ministerial appointments.
As Human Rights Watch reports, although it is true that access to the Internet is increasing by leaps and bounds in Iran – opening doors for ordinary Iranians to voice their thoughts and opinions – repressive legislation and the arrest of a number of online writers has led to substantial Internet censorship.
C. Torture and the Death Penalty
As AI reports, although in April 2004, “the Head of the Judiciary issued a judicial directive reportedly prohibiting the use of torture,” and then in May, “a little known law concerning “respect for legitimate freedoms and preservation of civil rights” was enacted,” which prohibited some forms of torture.
Yet there is no evidence that there is presently any adherence to the law. Torture is still used, on a large scale, to extract “confessions,” stifle dissent and end political opposition. We see this in the case of Ms. Kazemi.
At least 159 people were executed in 2004, including a number of minors. Numerous others were sentenced to death, including at least 10 who were under 18 years of age when the crime was committed, but it is not known whether these sentences were upheld.
Iran is party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which both contain articles promising not to execute anyone under the age of 18.
Yet, according to Iranian law, females over the age of nine and males over the age of 16 can face the death penalty. One can even be sentenced to the death penalty for ‘illegal’ sexual relationships. The death penalty also continues to be used for charges like ‘enmity against God’ and ‘morality crimes.’
Iranian Nuclear Program
Besides the severe repression Iranians face in their freedoms, an additional area of concern is the Iranian nuclear program. This is an area of concern because it not only endangers the Iranian people themselves, but also the rest of the world. Considering Ahmadinejad’s comments on the necessity of wiping Israel off the map, it seems that strong concern on Iran’s precise nuclear capabilities should not be taken lightly.
The New York Times reported this past week that Germany said the Ahmadinejad’s latest remarks about the Holocaust “would affect coming negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.” According to the BBC, Israel's military chief, Lt-Gen Dan Halutz, says it is incredible how often Iran is able to fend off international pressure to discontinue their nuclear ambitions. Halutz doubts diplomatic efforts will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been reporting that the Iranian officials where consistently unclear about the scope of Iran’s nuclear program. Yet, their continuing insistence on their right to uranium enrichment capabilities – which they state is needed for energy generation, but can also be used for nuclear weapons – coupled with their fundamentalist agenda and recent comments leaves no doubt as to the ambitions of certain political elements within the Iranian regime.
If it had not been for the People’s Mojahedin Organization (PMOI) and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) disclosing Iran’s nuclear program in 2002, the Iranian regime may now have had nuclear weapons at its disposal.
It is clear that there is a need for change, and the options are not limited to either diplomatic discussions – in the hope of convincing the Iranian regime of the benefits of democratic change – or war. Democratic reforms can also be sought through the empowerment of the Iranian Resistance, a view offered by Maryam Rajavi, the Iranian Resistance’s President-elect, in her speech to the EU Parliament in December 2004.
Through the official acceptance that the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI) and the Iranian Resistance are not terrorist organizations – a view that the Mullahs in Iran would gladly have the world believe – and offering them the full support of the democratic world to carry out their activities, can we promote social and political reforms in Iran.
The awarding of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize to Iranian human rights defender Shirin Edabi was also a welcome development. However, non-governmental organizations are still limited in their movements and scope. Last year, they were also required to enter a registration process, which was vulnerable to undue outside influence.