Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm delighted to appear here with Corinne Box, and I want to commend her for her comprehensive and effective testimony. As she has put it so well, the condition and situation of the Bahá'ís is a litmus test of the state of human rights in Iran and the future of justice and peace with respect to Iran.
I'm pleased to be able to participate in Iran Accountability Week, which takes place against the backdrop of the toxic convergence of the fivefold threat of Khamenei's Iran. I use the term “Khamenei's Iran” to distinguish it from the people and publics of Iran who are otherwise the targets of massive domestic repression. Indeed, that is a theme that underlies your hearing today and with regard to Iran Accountability Week.
Those five threats include, number one, the nuclear threat, which now warrants monitoring in the light of the JCPOA agreement; the terrorist threat, for which Iran has been characterized year after year as the leading state sponsor of international terrorism, whose global footprint is not only in the Middle East but beyond, in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the like; the incitement threat, whereby Khamenei's Iran is in standing violation of the international law of prohibition against state sanction of incitement to genocide, and whereby they are engaged in sustained incitement to hatred against the Bahá'í community in particular, as Ms. Box has pointed out; the regional hegemonic threat—I'm referring here to Iran's belligerent aggression in Syria, indeed aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, as well as its belligerent and hegemonic aggression in Lebanon with regard to aiding and abetting Hezbollah in that regard, and with regard to Iraq, with regard to Yemen, and the like—and finally, and of particular concern to this committee, the massive domestic repression, which for reasons of time I will just summarize telegraphically.
Number one, Iran executes more people per capita than any other country in the world, as the former special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, testified before this committee. In 2017, in the first four months alone from January to April, Iran has been executing prisoners at a rate of one almost every nine hours, and on May 3rd, at the beginning of this month, eight were executed in one day alone. So this pattern of unwarranted and indeed binge executions continues.
Second, Iran engages in the intensified persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, for which the Bahá'í offer a particular case study of the singling out of a religious minority not only for differential and discriminatory treatment and indictment, but of how in fact the very practice of the Bahá'í faith is effectively illegal.
Third is the criminalization of fundamental freedoms, including in particular the freedoms of speech and assembly and of press and association and conscience and belief, concerning which Dr. Asma Jahangir, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, recently specifically addressed the issue of Iran's imprisoning more journalists and bloggers than any other country in the world.
Fourth is torture in detention, graphically described in Dr. Shaheed's report.
Number five is the culture of impunity that attends all this, dramatically illustrated by the fact that the Minister of Justice in Iran, Mostafa Pourmohammadi was the person responsible for the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran, yet he presides over the justice system in Iran today.
Number six is the assault on the rule of law and any semblance of an independent judiciary.
Number seven is the assault on leaders of civil society in Iran.
Number eight, again, is the state-sanctioned discrimination you mentioned, Mr. Chairman, in your opening remarks against gays and lesbians, women, vulnerable minorities, and the like.
Number nine, and of particular concern to this panel, is the continuing and unjust imprisonment of more than 1,000 political prisoners including, as was mentioned, the leaders of the Bahá'í, whose 20-year sentence at an advanced age is an effective death sentence in and of itself, and lawyers, trade union leaders, human rights defenders, artists, students, and journalists. In a word, as I've said, they are the leaders of Iranian civil society, including many of them being threatened or even themselves the objects of execution.
In fact, I appear before you as a counsel to some of those imprisoned right now in Iran, including in particular the seven religious leaders of the Bahá'í, the Ayatollah Boroujerdi, one of the heroic figures in Iran who has been not only imprisoned for 11 years but tortured and consistently imprisoned for advocating nothing other than freedom of religion in Iran and the like. As well, Saeed Malekpour, a permanent resident in Canada, is now in his ninth year of imprisonment in Iran for exercising nothing other than his right to freedom of expression.
I will summarize now.
The patterns of persecution and prosecution visited upon political prisoners, using the three that I represent as case studies, find expression, number one, in on-going, arbitrary, and illegal imprisonment. Indeed, as the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found, the pattern of arbitrary and illegal arrests is persistent and pervasive in Iran.
Second is the prolonged and illegal pre-trial detention.
Third, as I mentioned, is the criminalization of fundamental freedoms in the three cases that I have referenced, whether it be the Bahá'í Ayatollah Boroujerdi, or Saeed Malekpour.
Fourth is wrongful conviction on trumped-up charges as false as they are absurd, such as the charge of corruption on earth.
Fifth is torture in detention, often to seek to secure a false confession, as in the case of Saeed Malekpour.
Sixth is the culture of impunity where, in the cases that I have mentioned, there's an ongoing culture of impunity. No one has been held accountable for the illegalities in these cases.
Seventh is the denial of the right to a fair hearing, which includes very often the denial of the right to counsel, the denial to make independent argument, the denial to rebut accusatory arguments, the denial of the right to appear before an independent judiciary, and the like.
Eighth is the intimidation and harassment of family members.
Ninth is the imprisonment of even those who would seek to defend them.
Last, which we must always appreciate, is the state-sanctioned character of these patterns of persecution and prosecution.
If I may, Mr. Chairman, I will close with some very specific recommendations for the committee in the matter of the situation of human rights as a whole.
Number one, I would invite this committee to repeat what it has done in the past and condemn the systematic and widespread state-sanctioned assaults on the human rights of the Iranian people and particularly the leaders of Iranian society.
Two, recognize the importance of not allowing the nuclear agreement to overshadow, distract from, or even sanitize the ongoing human rights violations of Khamenei's Iran.
Number three, call upon the Iranian regime to declare a moratorium on its state policy of wanton executions.
Number four, call on the Iranian regime to cease and desist from its prosecution and persecution of the Bahá'í community and, in particular, to release the seven Bahá'í leaders.
Number five, urge the Iranian regime to release its political prisoners. I made reference also in that regard to Ayatollah Boroujerdi and Canadian Saeed Malekpour.
And finally, call upon the Iranian regime to uphold the rule of law, to protect the independence of the judiciary, to end the culture of impunity, and to cease and desist from its arrest and imprisonment of lawyers for no other reason than that they have defended victims of human rights violations.
Let us never forget that on this specific responsibility to political prisoners, it is our obligation as a committee. This committee has a specific and distinguished role—and has played a distinguished role in all of this—to let the political prisoners in Iran know that they are not alone and that we stand in solidarity with them, that we will not relent in our advocacy and our pursuit of justice, that the release of political prisoners must always be a priority for us as a matter of principle and policy, and that the release of political prisoners can have a transformative impact in the pursuit of justice in that country and beyond.
I'll close with just one example. Nelson Mandela endured 27 years in a South African prison and emerged not only to preside over the dismantling of apartheid, but also to become the president of the first-ever democratic, free, and egalitarian South Africa.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.