There is as sense of deja vu about our interview here in Geneva, with Dr. Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights and advisor to the Chief of Juciary on international affairs.
Two years ago, euronews interviewed him about extensive violations against human rights in Iran by government-sponsored agencies and the judiciary.
He promised change. Two years on, latest reports by the United Nations and Amnesty International are filled with cases of human rights abuse while the number of executions have soared to an unprecedented level.
Fariba Mavaddat, euronews: Dr. Larijani, over the past year there have been 900 cases of execution in Iran, a number of them juveniles who were mere children at the time of offence…
Mohammad Javad Larijani: Executions in Iran are done by the law. The point is that 90% of these cases are stemming from narcotic related crimes.
euronews: Currently, according to Amnesty International, 160 juveniles are facing a death sentence. Some of them have been under death sentence for 7 years. What do you think it is like to grow up under a death sentence?
MJL: First of all , there is a big conceptual difference between a child and a juvenile….
euronews: 17 is still considered ‘under age’ according to the International Covenant of Human Rights …
MJL: A juvenile could be quite close – in a few months – to legally being a grown up person. A person under the age of 18, by default, would not get the capital punishment unless: exceptions: the judge considers him apt enough to carry the responsibility of his deed.
euronews; How is it possible that a judge could rule that three years before, two years before, this person, under those circumstances , in that condition had the maturity of mind?
MJL: The ruling may not be starting after three years because when the crime happens, then the judiciary process starts immediately. In some cases, most cases, they need a psychologist, a doctor to physically and mentally check the person.
euronews: Let me give you the case of Saman Naseem who was arrested at the age of 17 and executed last year at 18. His crime was “Enmity against God”. My question to you is: Can’t God fend for himself against a child?
MJL: This is a title. The title means that there are a number of crimes which can receive capital punishment. Someone like Naseem, unfortunately, was caught on terrorist activity, in fact.
euronews: Dr. Larijani, in all fairness, didn’t you make mistakes when you were 16 or 17 or 18 that you regretted today when you think of them?
MJL: I make mistakes and I say: Oh, God, I wish I hadn’t done that. The system of punishment in Iran is not based on revenge; it is for rehabilitation.
euronews: Is that why juveniles are executed?
MJL: For that reason, there are a lot of exemptions for them. One exception is involvement in terrorist activities.
euronews: Let me move to another area: Freedom of Expression. Facebook is blocked, bloggers are routinely arrested and imprisoned and any faint criticism of the system or the Supreme Leader could end with severe punishment.
MJL: Well, absolute freedom of expression is not reasonable and not warranted everywhere. People can criticise all sides of the government from bottom up on the issues of governance and on policies…
euronews: Let me move to the elections…The results of recent elections show that moderates and reformists have gained majority in the parliament, but it is rather academic because it is the Guardian Council that has the ultimate say and the right of veto over all laws passed by the parliament…and the Guardian Council consists of conservatives which actually, and in practice, renders the parliament irrelevant.
MJL: The role of the Guardian [Council] is not to intervene in decisions. They have merely two things to check: whether this law is against the Constitution; whether it is against the spirit of Islam. The Council of the Guardian is a complementary element only to see if the law is in congruence with the Constitution or not.
euronews: Let me move further to the economy. Iran is opening its doors to contracts with major international energy firms like British Petroleum and Royal Dutch. Why is it that these negotiations are taking place behind closed doors and in absolute secrecy? You know, oil is a national wealth. Every drop of it belongs to the people of Iran. Why is it that they should not be informed about the terms of the sale of their wealth?
MJL: First of all it is the duty of the government to make the deal, and while the government is negotiating a deal, I don’t think it is usual to make it public.
euronews: The people are entitled to that and if they don’t, that would leave negotiators and Iranian authorities open to the accusation of bribery and corruption…
MJL: Bribery is part of corruption which you can find everywhere in the world. We are not immune of bribery either whether they are made public or not. The system should have a good ‘check and balance’ to fight bribery…
euronews: is there any such system in place in Iran at the moment?
MJL: Yes, we are fighting corruption very strongly, but corruption is an international disease, a global disease. We cannot eradicate it but you can minimise it, you can control it.
euronews: ... Could you tell me why is it that over the past couple of weeks, Iran has withdrawn almost all of its boots in the Syrian theatre, and only left 700 military advisers there? What deal have you made with other players in the region?
MJL: We never sent soldiers over there. We are giving the same help for safeguarding the sovereignty and integrity of Syria.
euronews: Where has it left your relationship with Turkey and Saudi Arabia?
MJL: We cannot escape from being neighbours. We are capable of defending ourselves, but it is not enough. We should keep the region from turmoil…from sinking in turmoil.
euronews: Briefly, let’s talk about ISIL. ISIL has been rather useful. It sells the oil that otherwise could not be easily sold in the market for various reasons. [Note to readers: Iran has long been under oil embargo but managed to sell its oil through ‘intermediaries’ through the Black Sea] and others. It has got its own banks to facilitate financial transactions, so basically if the coalition – including Iran – wanted to destroy ISIL, it would be an easy job.
MJL: I think what you are saying is the irony of the reality which is over there. These are parasites that are created to pursue political and also economic incentives. This is a new situation but I believe those who created this ‘Daesh’ [ISIL] , funded them and supported them, will pay a high price, being the United States, being Britain or being local countries. This does not have a good pay-off.
euronews: Dr. Larijani, thank you.
MJL: Thank you.