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Iran: Execution of Protesters

Volume 826: debated on Monday 12 December 2022

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that the Iranian regime is carrying out executions against anti-government protestors.

My Lords, I am sure that the House shares the outrage expressed by the Foreign Secretary on Thursday at the Iranian regime’s execution of protesters. Mohsen Shekari and Majidreza Rahnavard are tragic victims of a legal system in which disproportionate sentences and forced confessions are rife. The UK is working with international partners to hold Iran to account, including by sanctioning 10 judges and prison officials last week. Iran must be in no doubt that the world is watching. It cannot continue to unleash violence against its own people to stifle voices of dissent.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, but two brave 23 year-old Iranians, standing up for democracy and women’s rights, have been brutally murdered on jumped-up charges by those in power in Iran. As the head of a Norwegian human rights watch body said, if these executions are not met with serious consequences for the Iranian Government, we will face mass executions of protesters. What extra serious consequences will the Government inflict on the Iranian regime?

I acknowledge, as I am sure we all do in different ways, the breathtaking courage of protesters in Iran, particularly the women, whose every act of defiance comes with the risk of extreme persecution and even death. It is really something to behold.

The UK of course condemns Iranian government activities, not least the executions that we are discussing now. Across international fora, we are calling Iran out at every opportunity and amplifying the voice of those protesters. We have condemned the regime’s crackdown on protesters alongside G7 partners and at the UN Human Rights Council, General Assembly and Security Council. We are working alongside the US and partners to remove Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and, on a bilateral level, we continue to challenge Iran’s reprehensible actions at every opportunity, including summoning Iran’s representative in the UK to the Foreign Office on numerous occasions.

On Friday 9 December, just a few days ago, the UK announced sanctions on 10 officials connected to Iran’s judicial and prison systems, including judges linked to the revolutionary court, which sentenced those two people to death. On 14 November, we announced sanctions on 24 leading political and security officials involved in the current crackdown on protesters. In October, we sanctioned the morality police in its entirety, as well as its leader and five other officials responsible for human rights violations. We take Iran’s reprehensible actions very seriously indeed.

My Lords, I listened carefully to the Foreign Secretary’s positive and forward-looking speech this morning, but there was no mention of Iran at all. As my noble friend said, Iran is a serious danger. I will make two points. First, the Minister mentioned the commission on women’s rights. I understand that there is a vote on Wednesday at the UN. Can he assure me that we will vote the right way? Secondly, while he gave a long list of what we have done, surely it is now time for us to proscribe the IRGC. It has to be done.

My noble friend makes an important and powerful point. It is not for me to discuss the proscription of individual cases. My colleagues in the Foreign Office will have heard what he had to say, which echoes what many others in this place have said on various occasions. In relation to the vote coming up in the next few days, I assure him that we will be voting the right way.

My Lords, although these executions are an outrage, they are not the only judicial outrage perpetrated by the Government of Iran. Will His Majesty’s Government pursue the injustice of extending the sentence of the longest-serving prisoners of conscience in the world—Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet, two women of the Baha’i faith, aged 60 and 69—for nothing other than professing their religion?

My Lords, the Iranian regime has a long, dark record of persecution—not just of religious minorities but of the LGBT community and, as has already been discussed, anyone who stands up to the regime in any way. The atrocities which the noble Baroness has just referenced are par for the course for a regime which is beyond the pale in its actions towards anyone not part of the mainstream establishment within Iran.

My Lords, the Minister has emphasised that he is working with international partners on this issue. What conversations have been had with Pakistan and Armenia, both countries that voted at the UN Human Rights Council against establishing an independent investigation into these human rights violations? Have there been any conversations in the light of the large amounts of ODA of which these countries are in receipt, thanks to the British taxpayer?

My Lords, I assume that these discussions are happening, but I do not know as I am not party to them. I will convey the noble Baroness’s question to the Minister responsible, who is not able to be here today to answer this Question.

My Lords, the barbarity of these public executions is obviously also intended to intimidate the population of Iran. I share the Minister’s admiration of the women and particularly the young women there. Further to the immediate question about Resolution S-35/L.1 to establish an independent international fact-finding mission, I also noted that Qatar and the UAE abstained. What discussions have His Majesty’s Government had with our allies in the Gulf about their considerably mixed messages of support for pro-democracy groups, especially concerning women and children? What practical support will the Government provide to the independent international fact-finding mission for it to have any teeth whatever?

My Lords, discussions with representatives from Qatar, the UAE and others are regular and ongoing. As I said in answer to the previous question, these are not discussions that I have been having, so I cannot provide an authoritative answer. I will include a response to the noble Lord’s question in my follow-up to the previous one.

My Lords, the news of the executions in Iran is deeply concerning and heart-breaking. I declare an interest as someone who originally comes from Iran and still has friends and loved ones there. There are likely to be many more executions still to come, with a dozen death sentences already issued. I would be grateful if the Minister could outline what support the Government are providing to Iranians in the UK who are seeking to ensure the safety of loved ones in Iran.

As noble Lords will know, it is not always the case that those who have been arrested and held by the Iranian regime contact the UK Government and request support, either directly or through their family. Where that support is requested, however, the UK Government do everything they possibly can to exert pressure and facilitate the speedy resolution of whatever the case is. I cannot go into individual cases; there are one or two that I have personally been involved in, and I can tell you that dealing with the Iranian regime is incredibly difficult at every step of the way, as the right reverend Prelate will know.

My Lords, was it not absurd that Iran was put on the UN women’s commission in the first place, given its long record? Surely the problem is that the Iranian regime believes that it is in an existential fight for survival and therefore we—certainly on our own—have no influence. In addition to the efforts that the Government have set out thus far, what are we doing to isolate Iran? Where, if any, are the pressure points which might influence the regime?

The UK maintains a wide range of sanctions designed to constrain Iran’s destabilising activity within the wider region. We work in the multilateral fora to—as the noble Lord suggested—encourage the world as much as possible to speak with one voice in condemnation of Iran, with some success but not entirely. In November, we supported a successful Human Rights Council resolution establishing a mechanism to investigate the regime’s actions, and we will work with partners to ensure that it delivers for the Iranian people. In relation to the first point that the noble Lord made, the truth is that there remains a place in the international community for a responsible Iran: one that respects the rights and freedoms of its people. Across international fora and working closely with our partners, we will continue to expose the regime’s appalling human rights violations, pursue accountability and amplify the voices of the Iranian people.

My Lords, is it not very significant that members of the Ayatollah’s own family have denounced these barbaric practices? Should we not give real publicity to what has been said about him by them?

My noble friend makes an important point. In the sewer that is Twitter, the one shining light is its ability to transmit and convey images of the really staggering bravery on the part of these protesters. Without social media, it is very hard to see how the world would be as awake to what is happening in Iran as it is. Whenever I find myself feeling gloomy about the filth on that social media site, I remind myself that it does have an incredible role to play. These protests are a pivotal moment for Iran. The Iranian people have made it clear that they will no longer tolerate violence and oppression. The UK stands with ordinary Iranians who are bravely risking their lives to demand a better future. This is an authentic grass-roots call for change; the regime has to stop threatening the lives of ordinary people in Iran and elsewhere, including the UK.

My Lords, first, on Friday, did the Foreign Secretary raise with the Iranian chargé d’affaires the question of threats to UK nationals and people working in the free press in this country? I asked the Minister about that last week. Secondly, what does the Minister think of the Foreign Secretary’s speech today, in which he said that it is not about

“dictating or telling others what they should do: we want to balance a mutually beneficial relationship”?

Is this not sending mixed messages? Is it putting things like trade above human rights?

Absolutely not. The UK’s position on Iran has been rock solid for a very considerable time, and there is no question of the UK in any way softening its approach to the behaviour of the Iranian regime. The issue of Iran’s extranational activities, particularly in relation to British nationals in the UK, was of course raised. I discovered today that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has been sanctioned; I am not sure there is any country that has not sanctioned him. I have to say, first, that this is a tribute to his own relentless campaigning on human rights issues in Iran and elsewhere, and, secondly, that I suspect the rest of the House, like him, will treat such a move with the contempt it deserves.

My Lords, the present revolution, or resistance, in Iran results from the cruel treatment of its brave women. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, led by a woman, has put forward a 10-point plan for democracy, which includes the absence of any sort of religious rule—a secular democracy—freedom of belief for all, and equal rights for women. Does the Minister agree that this is the right direction of travel for Iran?

Absolutely. In Iran, the law already provides some protection—for example, the Jewish community has protection within the constitution. However, in reality it is meaningless. If you are a member of the Jewish community in Iran, you will at the very least keep your head firmly down. The protection provided in law is not provided in practice, but of course that plan is the direction of travel that we want. For decades, the morality police have used the threat of detention and violence to control what Iranian women wear and how they behave in public. As the Iranian people have made clear, that institution is also intolerable. As noble Lords know, there were suggestions that the morality police will be disbanded, and we must hope that this is the case.

My Lords, in response to my noble friend Lord Scriven’s question, the Minister gave a list of very welcome actions taken by the Government, but these executions are happening right now. They have taken place over the past few days and are continuing, and some of them are of children. Can the Minister say what extra actions are going to be taken or are being taken in light of these continuing atrocities?

My Lords, there are a whole range of activities and actions that the UK can take bilaterally—which I have already mentioned—in relation to sanctions and trying to squeeze those responsible at the highest levels within the regime as much as possible, as well as multilateral activity of the sort that I mentioned earlier. There are Iranian protesters who look to the UK for safe passage, and that is something we provide, but the system can no doubt be improved in any number of ways. We take a measured approach to engaging with both Iranian civil society and the diaspora here in the UK. We are clear that, ultimately, choosing Iran’s Government is a matter for the Iranian people, but we will do everything we can to ensure that the Iranian people’s voices are heard.