February 3, 2003.
Dear Foreign Secretary,
We are writing in advance of your meeting on February 5 with Kamal
Kharrazi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to
urge you to use this opportunity to send a clear message to the government
of Iran about human rights conditions in the country. With the looming
crisis in Iraq likely to dominate this meeting, it is important that
Iranian leaders understand that Britain, and the European Union as a
whole, will not lower the priority of human rights in their discourse with
We welcome your government's efforts to develop better ties with Iran and
to encourage the country's closer integration with the norms and standards
of the international community. We hope that your government uses this
relationship to ensure better compliance with human rights standards by
the Iranian government and to remind the Foreign Minister of the promises
made by the government of President Mohammad Khatami to pursue an agenda
of reform in the human rights field. Such reforms have yielded very little
concrete progress as yet. Moreover, in international fora, such as the UN
Commission on Human Rights, the Iranian government has repeatedly promised
to comply with its commitments as a State Party to numerous international
human rights treaties.
As you are aware, human rights progress in Iran is caught in a continuing
power struggle between popularly elected reformers, who control both the
presidency and parliament, and clerical conservatives, who exercise
authority through the office of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei;
the judiciary, including the Council of Guardians; and through elements of
the security forces that fall under the Leader's ultimate control.
In remarks made by Foreign Minister Kharazi in the European Parliament on
January 22, he called on Europe to support Iran's reform process, saying:
"This is a process that needs to be appreciated and supported." We are
concerned that these much-promised reforms have not materialized and urge
you not to accept mere words but to push for measurable improvements in
specific areas of concern.
In the last two years more than fifty pieces of reform legislation have
been vetoed by the Council of Guardians in such key areas as women's
rights, the prevention of torture and the rights of children. The
judiciary plays an overtly political role in targeting for prosecution
leading reformist personalities, and ordering the closure of scores of
independent newspapers and magazines. The Council's members and the Head
of Judiciary are accountable to the Supreme Leader. We urge you to impress
upon Foreign Minister Kharazi that the performance of the Iranian
government as a whole will be judged according to its compliance with
international human rights norms, and that improving relations between
Britain and the Islamic Republic, and between the EU and the Islamic
Republic will be influenced by human rights concerns.
Human Rights Watch welcomes the lifting of the house arrest on 81-year-old
Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, one of the most prominent religious
figures in contemporary Iran, on January 30. Ayatollah Montazeri has been
a critic of the ruling clerical conservatives, and has been suffering from
serious illness. It has been reported that the motive behind the
Ayatollah's release was to avoid the unrest that might follow if the
Ayatollah died while under house arrest. While welcoming the Ayatollah's
release, we remain concerned that religious critics of the ruling clerical
elite continue to be targeted for persecution, and their freedom of
expression is limited.
In recent months, the arbitrary detention of students, and the targeting
of government critics and independent thinkers for prosecution -- and in
some cases executions after unfair trials -- have all increased. Elements
within the government continue to tolerate or encourage the activities of
shadowy underground paramilitary forces, linked to hardline conservative
clerical leaders unwilling to relinquish their continuing grip on power,
undermining the rule of law and creating a climate of fear. The situation
of religious and ethnic minorities remains a cause for serious concern.
Scholars and students who criticize the ruling clerical establishment have
faced death sentences, teaching bans or long prison terms. Dr. Hashem
Aghajari, a university lecturer, was sentenced to death for his criticism
of the role of the clergy in politics. Philosopher Abdol Karim Soroush,
one of the intellectual leaders of the reform movement has been banned
from teaching since 1995. Ahmad Batebi and at least six other students
have been in prison since 1999 for participating in non-violent
demonstrations. In recent months several lawyers known for their defense
of human rights have been targets of prosecution. Mohammad Dadkhah,
Abdolfath Soltani, and Naser Zarafshan have been sentenced to months of
imprisonment for carrying out their professional duties.
Government officials and close associates of President Khatami have been
held incommunicado for months under interrogation after publishing a poll
showing that a majority of Iranians favour restoring relations with the
United States. Abbas Abdi, a prominent journalist and Hossein Ali Ghazian,
a scholar have been in detention, charged with "collaboration with U.S.
elements and British intelligence" and of conducting "psychological
warfare" against the government.
These types of attacks on individuals are indicative of a continuing
absence of protections for basic freedoms in Iran that must be remedied if
true progress in the human rights field is to occur.
Since April 2000 more than 90 publications related to reformists have been
closed. In recent weeks attacks against the independent news media have
further intensified. In January, during one week three newspapers were
closed. The conservative-dominated judiciary has convicted several
journalists and writers, allied with President Khatami. They include:
Emadedin Baghi, Akbar Ganji, Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari, Ali Afshari,
Khalil Rostamkhani, and Saeid Sadre, who continue serving sentences for
their participation in the March 2000 Berlin Conference - a conference on
political reform in Iran, held in Berlin, that became the particular
target of criticism from the conservative establishment.
Iran's religious and ethnic minorities remain subject to discrimination
and persecution. The banned Kurdish opposition parties claimed that their
supporters have received death sentences, and at least five their members
were executed during 2002, after unfair trials. Baha'is also continue to
face intense persecution, including being denied permission to worship,
and access to higher education or to carry out other communal affairs
publicly. At least four Baha'is are serving prison terms for their
We welcome the intention of your government to engage more closely with
Iran. There are many benefits to be gained through such engagement and it
could contribute to stemming the flow of increasing violations of human
rights in Iran, and to putting an end to paralysis in the reform process
resulting from power struggles.
Should the Iranian government fail to improve human rights conditions in
the country, especially on the above points, we hope that Britain and
other E.U. members will use the forthcoming U.N. Commission on Human
Rights to make clear that it is not prepared to overlook continuing
serious violations of human rights in Iran
We thank you for your attention to these concerns.