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Q+A: New Iranian leader is no rights champion, says Nobel laureate

by Maria Caspani and Timothy Large

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Iran’s human rights record is unlikely to improve under newly elected President Hassan Rouhani, Iranian rights activist and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi said, adding that inviting a suspected war criminal to his inauguration suggests the kind of guests the new president will have.

Rouhani takes office on Sunday and Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and war crimes, is expected to be on the guest list, Ebadi said in an interview.

Ebadi is writing a letter to Iranian authorities calling for Bashir to be arrested once he arrives in Iran, she added.

In an open letter published on Friday, Human Rights Watch urged Rouhani to tackle Iran’s “dreadful human rights record”. It called for the release of political prisoners, a moratorium on executions, the lifting of press restrictions and respect for women’s rights.

Here are excerpts from Ebadi’s interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation, in which she spoke about Iran’s future, women’s rights and the Arab Spring.

Q Does Iran have a chance to improve its human rights record under the new president?

A According to Iran’s constitution, the main responsibilities and decisions are taken by the Supreme Leader (religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) – the president doesn’t have any power. And until this day, the Supreme Leader hasn’t shown any indication that he’ll change his positions.

Q Do you think relations with the West will improve under Rouhani?

A (These matters) aren’t within the decision-making scope of the president. The Supreme Leader has said many times it is he who makes decisions on these matters. Tomorrow is the last Friday of the month of Ramadan and … it’s the day the government usually takes the people and all its resources onto the streets to show that the Islamic Republic of Iran has a lot of support and that its people actually support the government. The government, however, is losing popularity for two reasons: firstly because of the systematic violation of human rights and secondly because of the poverty the people in Iran suffer due to international sanctions.

Q Can an uprising like the one that is still rocking Egypt ever take place in Iran, given public discontent?

I really don’t think so. Bearing in mind the current situation in Iran, if anything has to happen it’s likely to be more similar to what is happening in Syria (rather than Egypt). Unfortunately, the Iranian government is very violent.

Q What’s your hope for the women of Iran?

A Iranian women are educated – more than 60 percent of university students in Iran are women. And although this government is very much against women and women’s rights – many of the laws that were passed after the revolution are against women’s rights – the feminist movement is very strong and because of its strength it has managed to change a number of laws in the past years. But there is still a long way to go.

Q Some have argued that the Arab Spring has failed. Do you agree?

A When you manage to get rid of a dictator, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to have a democracy. The Iranian revolution didn’t result in a democracy. What we’ve been witnessing in the Arab countries is the rise of people coming onto the streets against their dictators. But whether this will lead to new democracies is something we can’t judge now. It’s too soon.

Source: Alertnet
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