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Iran: Women Protesters

Volume 825: debated on Wednesday 9 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Government of Iran about the treatment of women protesters in that country.

My Lords, the death of Mahsa Amini and all those who have since lost their lives standing up to the authorities in Iran is, simply put, a tragedy. We stand in absolute solidarity with, and in awe of, the extraordinary bravery shown by Iranian women and girls. The Iranian Government must now listen to their people. We have made our views clear to Iran in the strongest terms; most recently, I spoke to Iran’s representative here in the UK on 26 October. We have robustly condemned Iran’s crackdown on protestors, including at the UN Human Rights Council, the Security Council and the General Assembly, and we have sanctioned the morality police and two of its leaders, as well as five other officials responsible for human rights violations. Our message is clear: Iran must change course—and change course now.

Will we take advantage of the opportunity of England and Wales playing Iran in the FIFA World Cup to celebrate the warmth and vibrancy of the Iranian people, who are browbeaten, and worse, into living a monochrome existence by a regime terrified of its own people?

I agree that the World Cup provides an opportunity to celebrate. The fact that Iran is in the same group as two of the home nations also reflects the fact that football is a real celebration. In Iran itself, we have seen a real strength and courage, and a real vision of what the people of Iran want. As we have said consistently across the years, our fight is not with the Iranian people. Iran has a rich culture with incredible people, and it is about time that the Iranian Government recognised the strength of their own people as well.

My Lords, I am the only Member of your Lordships’ House who has been blacklisted by the Iranian regime, which is a badge of honour that I wear with pride. Two weeks ago, I asked two questions: why have we not proscribed the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and why have we not taken a lead at the United Nations to ensure that Iran is immediately suspended and removed as a member of the Commission on the Status of Women? I now add a third question: why, two weeks later, has the FCDO not taken any action? Why are we quick to speak and condemn, but oh so slow to take meaningful action?

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s work in this regard. On his first question, on the IRGC, of course it is a despicable organisation and we have continued to see that that is the case. Of course, I know the strength of feeling in your Lordships’ House and, as I cannot speak specifically to any future proscription, I note the strength of feeling, which very much reflects my own personal views in this respect.

On the issue of the CSW, I apologise—that is something that the FCDO has specifically led on. I assure my noble friend that in the past two weeks—how can I put it?—a change has yet again been part of government, and we have seen a new Prime Minister. Nevertheless, I assure my noble friend that on the CSW I directed officials immediately, and we are working very closely, hand in glove, with the United States and other partners to ensure the removal of Iran from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. It cannot be right that Iran continues to be part of that body.

My Lords, the young women of Iran are an inspiration, but the Iranian regime is profiting from additional oil sales and it was confirmed this week that a major buyer of Iranian oil is India. At the very same time, the UK is offering wider market access to the very financing institutions that are purchasing this oil, circumventing UN sanctions. Does the Minister agree that we are not doing the women of Iran a service if we are turning a blind eye to our friends who are supporting the regime by making it more profitable?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we are not turning a blind eye, whether on the issue of Iran or the issue of Ukraine. There are countries, partners and friends of ours that have different perspectives. I cannot speak to their foreign policy, but I can assure the noble Lord that we are robust in putting to them the United Kingdom’s position, and our position on Iran is of course very clear.

My Lords, I recognise what the Government have been doing, particularly at the United Nations, and I recognise what we have been doing Government to Government. However, the real issue here is how we support those very people who are on the street, how we support civil society and how we amplify those voices. Faith leaders need to be heard across the board, as do civil society organisations globally. Can the Minister assure us that we are supporting those organisations so that it is the people’s voices that are heard, not simply those of Governments?

I can give the noble Lord that assurance. I lead on the freedom of religion or belief, and indeed on engagement with civil society, and the noble Lord knows how important and central they are to my thinking and policy-making. On Iran specifically, I am looking to schedule a meeting with some of the key faith leaders here. What is being done on the ground there is not about religion; it is pure abuse of the rights of women and it must stop.

My Lords, should we not also note that not only is Iran persecuting its own people, especially women, it is also supplying drones that are destroying the infrastructure of the Ukrainian people? Has my noble friend communicated that to the Iranian envoy in this country?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we have been very robust. He raises a very important issue and colleagues in both the FCDO and the Ministry of Defence have made that case very powerfully.

My Lords, the Minister is a strong and sincere advocate for human rights at home and across the world. Just yesterday, a young woman reporter covering a protest for her media outlet was detained by the police for seven hours without interview before being released. That happened not in Iran but on the M25. Is it really time to be increasing police powers and scrapping our Human Rights Act?

My Lords, I speak both for the Government and the FCDO. I thank the noble Baroness for her kind remarks about me personally. The issue of media freedom both at home and abroad is an important one. The United Kingdom has led on this; indeed, I was in Vienna on Friday discussing this very issue of protection of journalists. I do not know the full details of that specific case, but I am sure that my colleagues in the Home Office will have noted it and I will ensure that the noble Baroness gets a reply in that respect.

To follow up on that, it was reported earlier this week that the lives of two British-Iranian journalists were at risk due to lethal threats from Iran following their coverage of the protests for the news channel Iran International. Will the Government take steps to condemn these threats and encourage the freedom of the press in Iran?

My Lords, the Minister mentioned that sanctions had been put on some of the morality police and others. What were those sanctions? Could there not be sanctions on much higher-profile people, such as the ruling caste?

My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly raises the issue of sanctions. The sanctions are consistent in their application in terms of travel bans, finances and bank accounts held. She will know that I cannot speculate on future sanctions policy, but I assure her that we are considering very carefully every element and tool at our disposal in our response to Iran.