“We agree that some of our laws need modification, but others we definitely support even against western criticism. We think the number of executions in Iran is too high,” Mohammad Javad Larijani, the secretary general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, said in an interview with Euronews in Geneva published on Friday.
Following is the text of the interview, during which a range of issues, including the recent report of Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, was discussed.
Question: The report by the UN is filled with cases of abuse of human rights, unjustified imprisonment, torture, and of executions including of minors. What is your response to the report?
Answer: In the name of God. We are not claiming to be perfect, but we think that our record on human rights definitely is not worse than the other countries who are really putting the blame on us, such as a good number of EU members.
Q: But this report is based on 169 interviews and investigations into various instances of abuses of human rights in Iran. It is also based on, apart from the UN, three of the most respectable and respected human rights organizations in the world: Amnesty International, Reporters Without Frontiers, and Human Rights Watch. You can’t say that all are biased. There must be an element, or many elements, of truth in it.
A: The issue of credibility in this report is very serious. We agree that some of our laws need modification but others we definitely support even against western criticism. We think the number of executions in Iran is too high. We should change the law. There are a number of crimes connected to drug trafficking, about 74 percent of executions in Iran, I believe. There is no need to consider them as “serious crime”, so this needs changes in the law, and a lot of people in the parliament don’t agree with me.
Q: One of the ‘sins’ in the Islamic Republic is ‘propaganda against the regime’. Meaning that if I express an opinion, if I am a blogger, that is ‘propaganda against the regime’. It is expressing an opinion for which so many young people are in prison and allegedly have been tortured.
A: Let me elaborate on that, because this is not the real case. Iran is actually ahead of all countries in the Middle East to the extent that the internet is used.
Q: But the use of the internet is limited because you filter it.
A: Well, this is an issue globally. There are issues that are considered damaging to the national interests of the people, to the life of the people: abuse of children, under-age sex, things like that need to be followed up or filtered.
Q: How about criticizing the ruling elite?
A: Oh no, it should not be filtered.
Q: “What about torture in prisons?”
A: Well, torture in prison is a disease, a crime, but compare us with the United States.
Q: Yes, but you cannot justify wrong-doing in Iran by comparing it with wrong-doing elsewhere, like the U.S.
A: You know, there is no absolute good. According to the law, torture is a major crime. According to Islam and sharia (Islamic law), anyone who carries out torture may receive death penalty.
Q: What about the practice?
A: Well, yes. When it comes to practice, I agree with you. Recently, we totally changed the legal supervision of the police temporary detention centre. We are not defending wrong-doing. We are defending that we want to be better. When it comes to the prison administration, well, it is a problem of efficiency, competence. The prison administration is not a simple issue. We are ready to discuss all of these shortcomings, but not with finger-pointing at us. The west, and especially the U.S., and the Europeans are approaching Iran in the wrong way.
Q: Let me move on to the forthcoming elections. In other democracies it is usually the political parties or organizations that vet their candidates. In Iran, it is the Guardian Council consisting of 12 men. Six appointed by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and six by the Judiciary. Where does that leave the people of Iran?
A: The job of the Guardian Council is not to vet a candidate. They look at the candidacy, and whether they are eligible to be candidates or not. A person who has been involved in a coup d’etat cannot be a candidate, a person who has no adherence to Islam cannot be a candidate. It is like a person who says I want to be the president of France, but I have no reliance on (liacism).
Q: Let me move to Iran’s nuclear program. Now Iran is under military threat from the international community, inflation is exploding and sanctions are hurting. All this for a meager 20 percent enriched uranium for a half-baked program?
A: The situation is not as bad as you said because the country is moving and surviving. The issue of nuclear technology is not an issue of having only some kilos of 20 percent enriched, we are in the international community like any other person. Every right that an American has, we Iranians have. The Israelis are very afraid of Iran. This is their problem. They are paranoid.
Q: I don’t want to judge the argument of either side. To me it is ‘realpolitik’, that is Iran is facing two options under the circumstances and the sanctions: either ‘hunger’ like North Korea where people eat grass, or a military attack. Which one do you choose?
A: We are much better and affluent than a good number of countries in southern Europe. A military attack against Iran is also not feasible. It may be easy to attack one place or another in Iran, but Iran is the one which will finish that war. The third option is sitting down and let us accept and acknowledge the right of Iran as a member of the international community within (the) NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty). We don’t want more than that.
Q: Let’s move further with foreign policy and move to Syria. Why do you support Bashar Assad?
A: Support for Bashar Assad is part of our regional policy: confronting the hegemony of Israel in the area. The U.S. and Europeans want to enforce a change in Syria because they want to put a dictator over there in the name of democracy, which is the stooge of Israel. The better way is to stop arming terrorists to go there, and let the opposition sit down and have an election. Everybody should participate in the election and Bashar Assad agreed to that. Then Iran would support the decision of the people of Syria.