Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity that this short debate affords to highlight the plight of many people in Iran, especially young women, who are fighting for their basic human rights and, as a consequence, suffering horrific violence at the hands of the state.
Within a few metres of this Palace of Westminster, we have seen and heard the many protesters over recent weeks who have been chanting—please excuse my pronunciation — “Jin, Jiyan, Azadî”, a slogan which has been taken up by the protesters. It is Kurdish and it means “Woman, Life, Freedom”. The protesters are demonstrating in solidarity with the women in Iran. I hope that this will give us an opportunity for their voices to be heard in this Chamber today.
In recent years, the light of international scrutiny has been shone on the Iranian Government. In addition to the recent demonstrations that we are discussing, Iran’s Government have continued to use the death penalty, to place restrictions on freedom of religion, and to detain British nationals. I commend the work of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in securing the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori from their detention in Iran. I hope His Majesty’s Government will show the same vigour in promoting the release of the detained British national Morad Tahbaz and in supporting all those who are unfairly detained by the Iranian Government.
I will give some of the background to the demonstrations that have been taking place, and indeed growing, in Iran over recent weeks. On 13 September, just over six weeks ago, 22 year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested by the Iranian Government’s Guidance Patrol—a section of the Iranian police tasked with upholding Islamic dress code. She was alleged to have worn tight trousers and worn her headscarf improperly. Three days later, Mahsa was dead. The Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran—the Iranian police—reported that Amini suffered from a spontaneous heart attack, fell into a coma and died. However, witnesses, including the women detained alongside her, stated that she was severely beaten by the police prior to her death. This is supported by leaked medical scans that reveal bone fractures and haemorrhaging. Over 800 members of Iran’s medical council have accused the Government of attempting to cover up the real causes of her death.
Since then, as has been widely reported in our media, protests have erupted across the country, with women demanding an end to mandatory hijab laws, justice for the murder of Mahsa Amini, and the protection of women’s rights. Indeed, reports coming out of Iran today, despite the social media close-down, suggest that the largest demonstration so far took place just yesterday. In defiance of the authorities, thousands of women gathered at Mahsa Amini’s grave. Demonstrations also took place in other parts of the country.
What makes these protests unique, and the response of the Iranian Government far more concerning, is the age of the protesters. The second-in-command of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has placed the average age of these protesters at only 16 years-old. Indeed, schoolgirls have been at the spearhead of this struggle for women’s rights. We have heard horrifying reports of the actions of the Iranian state towards children.
On 20 September, 16 year-old Nika Shakarami went missing after attending a protest in central Tehran. Ten days later, her family members, who had briefly been given a chance to identify her body, said that her nose had been completely destroyed and her skull had been
“broken and disintegrated from multiple blows of a hard object”.
On 12 October, Iranian security forces stormed a secondary school and attempted to force the girls to participate in a pro-Government demonstration, supporting oaths of allegiance to the Ayatollah and the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Those girls who refused to sing pro-Government songs were arrested and beaten. Sixteen year-old Asra Panahi was one of 12 students who were taken to hospital following the attack. She died from internal bleeding.
These are not isolated incidents. The Islamic Republic of Iran has cracked down brutally on protests in community after community in every corner of that country. Human rights groups have stated that at least 244 people have been killed, including 32 children, and that over 12,000 have been detained. The Government have shut down internet and mobile phone services in affected areas, arrested journalists and have been accused of threatening the family members of protesters with waterboarding and mock executions.
I have absolutely no doubt as to the gravity and seriousness of the actions of the Iranian regime and wholeheartedly stand with the women who have bravely protested for freedom. The examples I have just provided barely scrape the surface of the horrors of what is going on.
There is little we can do to influence the Iranian Government, but what we can do is to raise our voices, along with the countless voices of women around the world, to show those who are fighting for these basic freedoms that they are not forgotten, that many people are standing in solidarity with them and that we will continue to highlight their plight. I am grateful to noble Lords for the contributions they are going to make to this debate, and I would like to end by asking the Minister about His Majesty’s Government’s response to the protests.
First, a little over a year ago the Islamic Republic of Iran was elected to a four-year term on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. I understand that His Majesty’s Government have a policy of not commenting on UN elections conducted by secret ballot. However, noting the extreme behaviour of the Iranian security forces to women and young girls that I raised earlier, do His Majesty’s Government have any plans to raise this matter with the UN? What is the point of being in the UN if these things are not raised?
Secondly, senior political figures and clerics, such as Ali Larijani and Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, have come out in support of the protesters, criticising their Government’s hard-line stance towards them. What steps will His Majesty’s Government be taking to enter discussions with sympathetic politicians and religious leaders as we try to raise the plight of these women and hopefully, by the grace of God, bring it to a close?
My Lords, I pay tribute to my local bishop, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, for obtaining this important debate. I wish the new Minister well on his debut.
It is often said that fact is stranger than fiction. To follow the right reverend Prelate’s words, it is hard to believe that on 25 March 2022 Iran began a four-year term on the Commission on the Status of Women, the UN’s top women’s rights body. I want to go one stage further than the right reverend Prelate. Commending the women for their bravery and courage is absolutely right, but it is just words. Talk is not enough, so let us act—and I think we can act. Can the Minister advise me on whether the UK can take a lead at the UN and ensure that Iran is immediately suspended and removed as a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women? It is impossible to understand how it can be on it. I urge the Minister to take that to the department. Let us lead—and this we can do.
In this Chamber, I have been consistently critical of the Iranian regime and have called for the proscription of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps several times. The US State Department designated the IRGC as a terrorist organisation in April 2019, adding it to a list of 67 other terrorist organisations, including Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which the UK has recently proscribed. This past July, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the other place named Hossein Taeb, a former head of intelligence in the IRGC, as part of a group of 10 Iranians who played a large role in the arrest and intimidation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Despite this, the IRGC as an entity has been not been proscribed and Taeb has not been designated under our Magnitsky sanctions.
Furthermore, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has accused Iran of supplying Russia with weapons to help Putin’s illegal war effort against Ukraine. US reports have suggested that Iranian trainers from the IRGC have been deployed to a base in Crimea to teach Russian personnel how to operate the systems.
Last week, the Iranian Foreign Ministry announced a package of sanctions in retaliation for human rights sanctions that our Government imposed on Iran on 10 October. The Iranians singled out nine individuals in the UK who have been blacklisted—including myself. What an honour: banned from a country that attacks its own people, beating women and children because they dare to protest against backwards and oppressive laws. This is a country where peaceful protesters are dragged and beaten to death; a country that shuts down its own internet so the rest of the world cannot bear witness to the murderous brutality of the IRGC, while providing weapons and training to support Putin’s criminal acts in Ukraine. To be banned from such a country for standing up against its leadership, terrorist actions and treatment of its own people is indeed an honour.
I will continue to speak out against the Iranian regime and specifically its terrorist arm, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, for their inhumane activity on the ground in Iran and their acts of terror internationally. I urge my new noble friend the Minister to persuade those who are shamefully blocking the proscription of the IRGC to take immediate action and designate them to proscribe the murderous Iranian revolutionary guard.
My Lords, I too thank the right reverend Prelate for bringing this important debate to our attention and for highlighting the terrible catalogue of inhuman activities by the regime. If we are to have any influence at all on the obscene activities of the Iranian regime, now is the time for us to act. The UK will have a major impact if it goes ahead now and proscribes the brutal Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps at a time when those brave women, and men, are taking to the streets in one of the biggest demonstrations the regime has ever faced. Of course, our Government have rightly been quick to sanction the so-called morality police—what a misnomer; they would be better named the mortality police—but that is not enough.
It is the revolutionary guard, that draconian instrument of the regime, that callously murdered Mahsa Amini in custody for simply casting off her hijab. It is now murderously persecuting those hordes of protesting Iranians who have taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers. It represses the population without mercy and kills women and children with impunity, as we have heard. Of course, this latest outrage simply broke the dam of pent-up rage, after years of persecution of any Iranian who dared to challenge the regime. Examples of death by public hanging of so many, often very young, are so common that they are scarcely commented upon in the western media.
That the people of Iran are suffering terribly is no secret, yet we in Europe and America have until recently been willing to turn a blind eye to this unconscionable behaviour to try to do a deal through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in the vain hope that this would curtail Iran’s plan to gain nuclear weapons. It seems to have mattered little that Iran has cynically violated any possible agreement, continuing along the path to a bomb completely undeterred by these never-ending discussions, now mainly defunct. The west’s conditions in the JCPOA say nothing about the treatment of Iran’s own citizens, nor the revolutionary guard’s activities outside Iran; about its sponsorship of terrorism abroad; about its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, where it is completely destabilising that country, and in Gaza, where Hamas is preventing any form of stability. And here in the UK, it is spreading its venomous extremist messages wherever it can.
There are many examples of its influence, from the attempted kidnapping of the Iranian women’s activist Masih Alinejad in New York to the IRGC-inspired extremism which led to the attack on Salman Rushdie. That Iran’s regime is a danger to the world and its own citizens is beyond dispute, to say nothing of its obvious repeated intentions to wipe Israel off the map. That is always there, but it is perhaps for another debate.
Now is the time for our new Conservative leadership to show some resolve. Proscribe the horrific Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and withdraw completely from the fruitless and moribund JCPOA discussions, or strengthen them by including reference to the IRGC’s terrorist activities at home and abroad. It may not be possible for us to be directly involved in regime change, but we can at least support those brave Iranian citizens who are desperate to do so.
My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans on bringing this debate to the House, particularly as it is the 40th day since the death of Mahsa Amini. Her death has resonated throughout the world. She is an incredible martyr for something that ought never to have taken place, something we perhaps allowed in some small way to happen in Iran. I also welcome the new boy on the block, the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, and hope he enjoys his post; it might be quite demanding.
I suspect that here in this Chamber we all support the women of Iran. We understand that they are morally justified in what they are doing, which is a peaceful but very loud and vigorous protest. They are incredibly brave in the face of a repressive, dangerous and cruel regime. I would like to ask what we can do about it and what the Government have started to do. The right reverend Prelate said that there is not much we can do, but there probably is a lot—including proscribing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. I have a few more ideas if the Government would like some of them.
I would like to know how this affects the nuclear deal with Iran. The deal is that they do not try for an increase in enriched uranium, and we do not put sanctions in place. However, given the current human rights abuses, will the Government continue to express full support for restoring the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was mentioned earlier, or will they stand with the women of Iran who are fighting for freedom? Will there be additional targeted sanctions of any kind to show that the UK is a defender of human rights and freedom for all in society? With inflation in Iran of 40%, it is likely that some of the richest Iranians will start to bring their private assets to Britain. Has any thought been given to imposing measures on the assets of the richest, and perhaps those in power, who might be banking with us? While we are at it, could we also demand that Iran stops supplying Russia with drones? That might be a step forward for world peace.
I feel we have missed our moment. We could have led the world in shouting about this and putting in sanctions first. The USA has done it. We could all have been proud of that, if we had led the way. As with all decisions in government, at some point we have to decide if we want to protect economic gain, which in this case would mean abandoning the women, or to protect democracy, which in this case would mean supporting them.
I would like to repeat the shouts of Iran’s women: “Women, Life, Freedom”—“Zan, Zendagi, Azadi.”
My Lords, I know Iran. The people of Persia are considered one of the great civilizations, but the world of Iran is a complex world and it is moving into a darker place. The Iranian people and the free world have been taken hostage—hijacked in effect—for over 40 years. My remarks are for the 80 million Iranians who have been directly affected and are being misled. For how much longer is their leadership’s behaviour to be allowed to continue? The corrupt leadership of thugs does not represent its people; it represents an inexcusable form of governance.
In yesteryear, I had been briefed by the appropriate department in Jerusalem and shown evidence of why Iran is a threat. Part of that footage was devoted to the youth. We all know that change can come only from within, and now it is the brave youth who must be supported—how the tables have turned. I suggest that Israel takes note: we know its anxieties and remember that it was not so long ago that Jews and Persians were so close. That world needs to be returned to. Care in doing so, however, must ensure that this is not perceived as pitting Judaism and Christianity against Islam. Nevertheless, it is a form of cowardice not to be supportive of those who are bravely defying this abhorrent regime, believing that it is ostensibly safer for free people not to become directly involved. That is a false illusion.
The leadership in Iran is reliant on the Revolutionary Guard and has consequently become more assertive. But make no mistake that there is one core fundamental: the language of power is all that is understood. When faced with credible condemnation and pressure, the leadership will buckle. The people of Iran need to be given their freedom and to lead their lives in a world free of tyranny. The world will be a safer and better place without the current leadership in Iran. We must support the people of Iran. There is no place in today’s world for the mullahs, and those who support them, who lead for self-serving purposes only. My final words are borrowed from a regional analyst friend: “It is about time Iran had a taste of its own medicine”.
My Lords, one ongoing issue in Iran that has received virtually no publicity in this country or across the West over the last 20 years is the repeated action by trade unions and trade unionists striking against the regime. For the last 20 years, that has been a continuum. The action by the women and girls of Iran does not come from nowhere; there has been, including increasingly in recent years, major industrial protest—specifically political in nature—directed against the regime. We hear little of it—only bits come out. For example, in the last fortnight, the co-ordinating council of teachers’ unions has highlighted what it describes as systematic repression through the entry of military and uniformed forces into schools. We also hear from the writers’ union, which explains how the spread of rumours and the distortion of public opinion to thwart its efforts to tell the truth is the current reality.
Intellectuals and the middle class are battling, but it is far deeper and more worrisome to the regime than that. Ongoing in recent weeks is the Mahmoodabad strike; the Teheran truck drivers’ strike; the Isfahan stone factory workers’ strike of thousands; and repeatedly and consistently, every single time, the bus drivers’ strikes, bringing the country to a halt. There is what the International Trade Union Confederation calls no guarantee of workers’ rights in Iran—that is category 5, the lowest category. Yet, as we saw in South Africa and in the communist bloc, not least in Poland, trade unions are at the front of taking on repressive regimes.
There is also the South Pars gas field strike and the Bushehr petrochemical strike, as well as action at the Haft-Tappeh sugar refinery, from the Hengam petrochemicals and Azar water workers, at the Aidin chocolate factory in Tabriz, and from the 3,500 Ahvaz steel workers and the Neyriz Ghadir steel workers. I could go on. Across Iran, now and repeatedly, industrial trade unionists are striking at great risk. At Zahedan in the recent fortnight 200 refinery workers were arrested for daring to strike against the regime. This regime has no support among the working classes; it uses repression and traditional style to hold back the workers of Iran, who are demanding greater rights and greater pay in traditional ways—but specifically they are protesting against this regime.
Yet there are those in this country—I am going to name only one, but there are others—who act as excusers for the Iranian regime, some on a weekly basis. Let me give one example: a professor recently removed from Bristol University, Professor David Miller, supported by around 200 academics from across our universities. He is an apologist and a sycophant to Iran. This is a man who says that Mahsa Amini was not murdered and that it was an Israeli and US-inspired insurrection. Do those 200 or 300 academics across our universities now have the decency to withdraw their support from Miller and support the workers of Iran?
Another example that I want to quickly highlight is that of Elnaz Rekabi, the sports climber. Has she or has she not been stopped from climbing and forced to live in isolation at home, as is reported, because her hair came out when she was climbing for Iran in national competition? Bouldering is an Olympic sport. Will GB Climbing and the British Mountaineering Council, of which I am a member, and the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation join in demanding an Olympic removal of Iran if this potential Olympian is not seen in competitive sport in the next year? Iran should not be in Paris or Los Angeles—if she does not compete, Iran should be thrown out of the Olympics.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for bringing this Topical Question to debate for us. As he introduced it so well, it is about a blend of our UK strategic interests and human rights and freedom of speech for the people of Iran.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, indicated, our debate is less about looking at Iran through the prism of its regime—and therefore there is no question of our solidarity with people within Iran—and more about questioning the tactics and brutality of the regime. It is about highlighting in particular, as has been remarked consistently in this short debate, the bravery of women in Iran, and especially—it is what stands out—the young women in Iran, criticising in schools the president in their presence. There cannot be anything more brave than that. It should be an inspiration to the whole world.
I welcome the Minister to his position again. Since he answered his first Question yesterday on the trade deal, he is a slightly more experienced maiden, but I look forward to his maiden speech. His predecessor was exemplary in reaching out to the Opposition Front Benches and keeping us informed and I welcome the commitment he gave yesterday evening that he would carry that on. Because our time is limited, I shall just ask a number of questions, a couple of which were raised so well by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and I welcome her contribution.
First, can the Minister give an update on payments with regard to what Iran had claimed? As the Minister will know from the briefing he will have received, these were part of some of our debates about Nazanin. We very much welcome her return, of course, but it was linked by some to payment of what the UK was claimed to owe Iran. If he can update us on the processing of that, it would be helpful.
Secondly, on the global human rights sanctions regime, these Benches welcome the Government putting financial sanctions in place on 85 individuals, on the cyber police and on the morality police. The cyber police sanctions have not been mentioned so far, but they are critical in this and I welcome them. I know that the Minister will have been briefed to say that the Government do not comment on considerations for future sanctions—so he does not need to spend time saying that; we know that—but I impress on him, to add to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that we now need to be in a position where we are preparing an audit of the property and investments of those within the regime in Iran and whether any UK interests have invested in any of the state-owned enterprises linked to the Iranian Government. That audit needs to be carried out and the City of London needs to be aware of it, because we should not be in a situation where we have delays like those we have seen with other regimes, such as Belarus and Russia, where kleptocrats have used the London laundromat approach. We need clarity that the Government are preparing that with the City of London.
My other point is linked to a question I asked in the Chamber a number of weeks ago about the BBC Persian Radio service. The BBC has been in touch with me and I am grateful for its briefing. It is horrific that the BBC staff and families of staff are being persecuted and harassed by authorities in Iran, and that the BBC itself is now under sanction as a criminal entity. That is unacceptable. Will the Government make sure that there is no platform, radio or online, which can be easily reduced by the Iranian regime? I believe that emergency funding should be made available to BBC World Service so that radio service resilience can be provided.
Finally, as requested, I hope the Minister will be able to give an update on the JCPOA. I see the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, in his place. We have had many debates on the JCPOA. It is timely that the Minister can give an update on what British policy is in the current context. If the Minister can respond to these points, I would be grateful.
My Lords, I too start by saying that I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Johnson. It is a big step to enter the House as a Minister and I welcome him to his position. I hope he plays a full role and engages, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, reiterated, across the House in the best traditions of the Lords. I also welcome the right reverend Prelate initiating this debate, which is important at this time. I echo his comments about maintaining pressure to release those foreign detainees, including Morad, about whom we have repeatedly asked for more information in this Chamber. I welcome that commitment and I hope the Minister can respond on those specific issues.
The tragic death of Mahsa Amini is both disgraceful and unacceptable, and the UK must continue to support calls for a transparent, impartial investigation into the circumstances that led to it. The situation is increasingly alarming; reports continue of disproportionate force by the Iranian authorities, including as protests spread to universities and border communities, as illustrated by the right reverend Prelate. As the UK is a supporter of human rights, we must continue to maintain calls to protect the people of Iran’s fundamental freedom to live as they choose.
Like other noble Lords, I fully support the Government’s decision to sanction those responsible for these human rights abuses, using our powers under the human rights sanctions. I am also pleased that the Foreign Secretary summoned the most senior Iranian official in the UK, but I urge the Minister to explore further options to hold the Iranian Government to account.
First, can the Minister update the House on steps taken at the UN to raise the recent violations? What steps has the UK taken with our European partners since the joint statement on 13 October? Secondly, as illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will he explain the Government’s decision to cut funding to BBC Persian Radio? At this vital moment, the United Kingdom should be standing by the protesters, not eliminating a vital source of impartial information. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that we should be looking at special ways to push that service out into the communities.
Finally, I echo something I have repeated before: the important role of civil society in Iran, which is continually under attack. How are we working with our allies to promote global civil society organisations, including interfaith groups? One thing the community in Iran needs to hear is that there is a tradition of Islam that does not support the Government’s actions. There are traditions of faiths working together. We need to ensure that we amplify that. Supporting the BBC World Service is one way, but there are others. I hope the Minister will commit to doing so.
My Lords, before I begin, to follow on from yesterday’s declaration of interests, I have interests in financial services groups that have investments in the region, although I do not think there is anything specific relating to this debate.
It is a great honour to close this debate and address this House for my maiden speech—or, as has been pointed out, almost maiden speech. I thank all those who have kindly offered me advice and friendship since I joined this House, in particular my supporters: my father-in-law and, if I may use the term, my noble kinsman Lord Hamilton of Epsom, whom I sadly cannot see here today, who while introducing me tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “I thought I’d be long dead before you sat in a place like this”—I am not sure if that was a desire or an expectation; and the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, in whose honour I will have to declare the interest that, like so many people of West Berkshire, I am his tenant. Indeed, the noble Lord has already informed me that he is one of the few residents of the county who is not one.
I also give my warmest thanks, love and appreciation to my wife Alice and my children Eliza, Alexander and Victor—so-called because he was born on 6 May 2010, the day the Conservatives won their historic first victory of many. I also thank my friends and colleagues who have supported me all my life, at least up until this point. Finally, I owe immense thanks to our doorkeepers, clerks, police officers and all the staff, who have been unbelievably kind to me since I arrived earlier this week. This is a very special place, made so by all noble Lords and the people who support us in our efforts.
As an investor and entrepreneur, I am incredibly fortunate to be speaking from the Front Bench as Minister for Investment at the magnificent Department for International Trade. I have put my heart and soul into building businesses across the UK, Asia and America. I want to bring my understanding of just how hard it is being a business partner to this House and to this Government. I will effectively be the UK’s chief salesman, telling everyone about our fabulous firms, people and institutions, and doing my utmost to deliver investment to allow our creatives and risk-takers to flourish.
This job also allows me to pursue my other life’s mission: promoting global free trade. For me, two parties coming together to voluntarily trade goods and services for their mutual benefit is the most magical of exchanges. I believe this kind of trade—free from coercion or corruption—is the greatest force of progress that mankind has ever known. To quote Libanius, the fourth-century philosopher:
“And He created commerce so that all may enjoy the fruits of the earth, no matter where produced”.
It was my ancestor the first Baron Somers who wrote our Bill of Rights in 1689. It is my firm belief that today, with globalisation in retreat and autocracy on the rise, the tenets he espoused could not be more relevant. The freedom from government interference, the protection of private property and the rule of law—these are values that underpin free trade, free enterprise and free societies, and these are the values I will make it my mission to champion here as I fight for our freedoms against protectionism and autocracy.
This fight for freedom brings me now to the subject of today’s debate: the United Kingdom’s response to the Iranian regime’s brutal repression of peaceful protest. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for tabling this Question and his dedication to seeking the betterment of peoples’ lives around the world. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this incredibly informed debate, and I will try to answer as many of their questions as I can in my comments.
We are gathered today in this House just 41 days after the death of Mahsa Zhina Amini following her arrest by Iran’s so-called morality police. These are 41 days in which the Iranian people have sent their strongest message yet that their human rights must be respected by the Iranian authorities. The violence levelled at protestors in Iran by the security forces is truly shocking. It is abhorrent that Iran has responded with such unconscionable violence, as well as mass arrests, internet shutdowns and media blackouts. This is no way for any Government to treat its own people. The international community must shine a light on the situation in Iran and hold the Iranian Government to account for the serious human rights violations they are committing. I think we are all agreed on that.
In relation to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I say that Iran has yesterday returned British citizen Morad Tahbaz to Evin prison. Mr Tahbaz’s horrendous ordeal has gone on long enough. As my noble friend the Minister for the Middle East, South Asia and the United Nations said in a statement yesterday:
“We call on Iran to release Morad back to his family in Tehran immediately. Iran must stop unfairly detaining British and other nationals, and we will continue to work closely with our US partners to hold Iran to account”.
The noble Lord, Lord Mann, raised a question relating Elnaz Rekabi. Forgive me, but it would be unreasonable to go into specific details about some of the other individuals raised. However, we are certainly concerned to hear the reports that she has been put under house arrest. I am sure there will be follow-up comments on that—I appreciate them.
Since Mahsa Amini’s death, protests have continued across Iran on a daily basis. The longevity alone of the protests marks them out as the most significant we have seen in Iran for decades and I note the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Mann, about the bravery of the trade union movement in standing up to this repressive regime. What we are seeing now is exceptional, but I am grateful for his comments.
The protests are an authentic expression of the wishes of ordinary Iranians to enjoy fundamental freedoms. It is too soon to predict their long-term impact, but some facts are clear: Iran must stop blaming external actors for the unrest, listen to its people and stop committing violence against them. Let us be under no illusion: the Iranian authorities’ response to these peaceful protests and the people’s legitimate desires for fundamental freedoms, such as the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, have been completely indefensible. NGOs have estimated over 200 deaths, at least 23 of which were children, but I gather from some of the comments today that that figure may tragically be higher. The Iranian authorities’ use of live ammunition against demonstrators is truly barbaric. The mass arrest of protestors and the restriction of internet access are sadly typical of this oppressive regime and its flagrant disregard for human rights. These are not the actions of a Government listening to their people. Iran’s leaders can and must now choose a more peaceful path.
Noble Lords raised a number of points relating to the UN commission on women and other actions that the Government can take, so I will now go through what we have been doing, to reassure your Lordships that we have been responding with the utmost vigour. The UK has joined the international community in swift and robust condemnation of Iran’s actions. We have, as the right reverend Prelate said, raised our voice. At the 51st session of the Human Rights Council, His Majesty’s Ambassador Simon Manley called on Iran to carry out independent, transparent investigations into the circumstances of Mahsa Amini’s death. Our global human rights ambassador, Rita French, condemned the repression of women in Iran and the violence faced by Iranians who stand up for their fundamental right to freedom of expression. I take note of the various comments made about Iran sitting on the commission for women’s rights. While we do not comment on the election processes in the United Nations, clearly we are working with our international partners to seek a resolution there.
In his statement on the death of Mahsa Amini, my noble friend Lord Ahmad urged the Iranian Government to undertake a transparent and accountable investigation and to respect the right of peaceful assembly. On 3 October, the Foreign Secretary summoned Iran’s most senior diplomat in the UK to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to condemn the Iranian authorities’ violent crackdown on protest. We urged Iran to respect the right to peaceful assembly, exercise restraint in policing and release unfairly detained protestors.
On 10 October, the UK sanctioned the morality police—this is important, because a number of noble Lords commented on various sanctions and the options therein—and some of its leaders, as well as five other leading political and security officials responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran. All are now subject to asset freezes and travel bans. In total, the UK now maintains close to 300 sanctions designations against Iran in relation to human rights, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. The IRGC is a sanctioned organisation, and a number of the individuals involved in that grouping are also sanctioned. We will not comment on potential sanctions or other actions taken, because, clearly, it would allow those people to avoid them in advance. Noble Lords will understand the discretion I have to employ there. Our sanctions will ensure that the individuals designated cannot travel to the UK and that all their assets held in the UK will be frozen. As the Foreign Secretary has stated on many occasions, the UK has sent a clear message that we stand with the brave Iranian people in their struggle for fundamental rights.
Lastly, the JCPOA and our determination to try to reduce nuclear weapons proliferation in Iran and its development of a nuclear weapon were raised continually. Clearly, the JCPOA has not developed in the way we intended it to. Our view is that we are addressing our options with our international partners, and I hope that noble Lords will support the Government in trying to come to a conclusion on this, and certainly continue to work towards a sensible solution.
In conclusion, the demonstrations following the death of Mahsa Amini have left the world in awe. The courage of the Iranian people is striking. They have for too long lived under the threat of detention, violence or harassment for what they wear or how they express themselves. The people are speaking their truth to power, encapsulated in three powerful words: women, life and freedom. Universal human rights know not of geographical boundaries, so it is our hope that these demonstrations will lead to the advancement of human rights in Iran and safer, freer lives for the Iranian people. The UK’s position is clear: through our words, sanctions and work with international partners, we will hold Iran to account and defend the rights of its people.