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Iranian Spokesman Defends His Country's Human Rights Record

Aired February 16, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, sharp new rhetoric between Washington and Tehran. Is Iran turning into a military dictatorship as the United States says it is?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

The confrontation between the United States and Iran is ratcheting up again, and both sides are using harsher language.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the -- the president, the parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): We don't take her comments seriously. She's secretary of state, and she needs to make comments. But between her comments and the stances of those people around Obama, we find some contradictions all the time.


AMANPOUR: President Ahmadinejad's comments came after his government staged a show of strength during last week's Revolution Day celebrations and a new crackdown by police and Basij militiamen on opposition protestors, all of this as Iran continues to defy the world over its nuclear program, saying that it's accelerating its uranium enrichment.

In Iran, one of the most powerful political clans is the Larijani family. There's Ali Larijani, speaker of Iran's parliament on the left of the screen; to his right, his brother, Sadegh Larijani, who's chief of the judiciary; and joining us now from Geneva, another brother, Mohammad Javad Larijani, who is secretary general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights.

Mr. Larijani, welcome to our program. You're in Geneva defending Iran's human rights. So let's talk about that. Obviously, there's been a huge amount of criticism about what Iran is doing, cracking down on the protestors, et cetera. What have you been saying at the Geneva U.N. meeting there?

MOHAMMAD JAVAD LARIJANI, SECRETARY GENERAL OF IRANIAN HIGH COUNCIL FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: We explained in full detail and in concrete terms that Iran is not the biggest democracy, but the only democracy in the Middle East. So if there is a protest about the outcome of any election, this is not a strange thing in a democratic state.

In a country which every year we have one election, then we should be accustomed to the disputes over political matters. We explained in detail that Iran's record in adherence to human rights, values and obligation is very clear-cut. So it is true that United States and a number of Western countries aired their criticism toward us, but it was mostly a kind of cliche.

But, on the other side, a lot of nations also supported and commended our positions.

AMANPOUR: OK, well, let's take some of these issues step by step. First and foremost, you invited--


AMANPOUR: -- the U.N. high commissioner for human rights to Iran. Now, none of her and none of the U.N. human rights rapporteurs had been able to get into Iran for the last five years or more, despite an official invitation back in 2003. When will you let them in to independently monitor what you claim are your human rights standards?

LARIJANI: Well, first of all, our standing invitation is there. And the number of thematic rapporteurs who visited Iran is exceeding any other country in the world, even the Western countries.

So our invitation is there. It is a technical issue that we should plan when they should come and to be adjusted with our programs.

AMANPOUR: OK, so if they--

LARIJANI: But this is one thing. The other thing is our record. Our record does not only rely on the reports of thematic rapporteurs. This is only one element.

AMANPOUR: OK. Well, let's--

LARIJANI: We have already -- OK, please.

AMANPOUR: Yes, let's talk about your record. When it comes to the post-election crackdown, all the world has seen what's happened, whether it's the beating of protestors on the street, whether it is the show trials, whether it is the imprisonment, whether it's the jailing of more than 90 journalists, the highest number anywhere, according to one of the committees right now.


Why is this happening? And why is due process not being given to these people who you're arresting?

LARIJANI: Nobody is jailed because of the protest. The only reason for jailing is the violence which was attached with the protests, a violence which got the life of more than 20 policemen and 13 civilians and, also, damage to the properties and also people's life and health.

So the reason for jailing is not the protest. It is the damage and the violence. Any government has a duty to bring an end to the violence. I think the beating of our police is much more less than the New York and Los Angeles police or the violence in the Tehran was much more less than the violence in Paris. Paris was in flames for three months.

So I don't know whether if there is a protest in Tehran it has this connotation in the West (ph), but if it -- if it is in Paris or Los Angeles, it doesn't -- it does indicate democracy (ph).

AMANPOUR: OK, let me play this sound bite by Iran's Nobel Prize- winner who is Shirin Ebadi, who won the prize for her commitment to human rights, and this is what she's saying about the present-day situation in Iran.


SHIRIN EBADI, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER (through translator): The violation of human rights is increasing in Iran day by day, that government violence is increasing day by day, that innocent people are shot on the streets, that people are thrown in prison for even minor criticism of the government.


AMANPOUR: So how -- how do you answer that? Because we certainly seen -- I know you say that people are only being arrested and put on trial for violence, but there are many, many people, including some of our colleagues, journalists, who've been put in jail, for nothing other than just being on the streets, some just as observers.

LARIJANI: No -- no -- no journalist is put in jail because of being journalist, while for inciting violence, yes, they are pursued by the legal structure. And with all the respect I have for Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, but I think her records in defending human rights is very dismal.

When people like me were suffering in the jails of the shah, she was enjoying the company of royal family and palaces in Tehran. She speaks in a language perhaps is more relevant to White House and other capitals in the West. She's totally detached from the people of Iran. She should go to the countryside rural areas to see what is the aspiration of our people.

AMANPOUR: Well, Mr. Larijani--


LARIJANI: -- spend the time in Paris and London.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Larijani, you know that she's not there because she's being pursued by the government. And I've even, you know, reported on her work--

LARIJANI: Oh, no, she's--

AMANPOUR: I've reported on her work, and some of her--

LARIJANI: She's -- she's--

AMANPOUR: Sir, some of her -- some of her work has led to much more freedom, certainly legally, for some Iranian women and children, so she has had a dramatic impact for women and children. But can I move on? Again, about the specific things--

LARIJANI: Not at all. Not at all. I mean, as I said, I respect her, but she's impact is so minimal. I mean, you should understand the women of Iran. She should go to the heart of the people, to the middle of the people, to all areas, and to discover what the aspiration of our people are.

AMANPOUR: OK. Well, let me--

LARIJANI: She was discover a great difference, I think so.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you this, then. You're talking about the aspiration of the people.


AMANPOUR: There have obviously been significant numbers of people who've come out protecting the election results in Iran. Now, whatever you might think of that, do they not have a right to do that? And why are people, for instance, being sentenced to death, again, being put into trial without due process and without proper representation?

I would like to play you a little clip of a speech to Friday prayers that one of the senior Iranian ayatollahs made, Ayatollah Jannati. He was actually speaking to your brother, the chief of the judiciary, and this is what he had to say.


AYATOLLAH AHMAD JANNATI, IRANIAN GUARDIAN COUNCIL CHAIRMAN (through translator): Just as you came and executed these two individuals, very quickly -- and thank you so much for that -- come and stand up like real men. If you show any weakness or hesitation, they will overtake you.


AMANPOUR: So there is a senior ayatollah basically praising the execution of people. There are nine more people sitting, waiting to be executed. I mean, is this Islamic democracy, as you call it?


LARIJANI: Nobody's executed because of demonstration. That two people were even -- they were in detention months before the election. They were responsible for bombing in Shiraz, killing in one mosque at least 14 people. So, yes, we have death penalty for these kind of atrocities.

While people are free to speak, due process of law is applied as far as we can. And I should say that our legal system is very open. Everything which happens in court and before court is depicted in all journals, so we do not have a closed-door system for our legal process.

AMANPOUR: And what--

LARIJANI: So I think they can defend themselves.

AMANPOUR: What about the nine people--

LARIJANI: They could go back (ph) to the demonstration.

AMANPOUR: Yeah. Because it's -- I know what -- I know what--

LARIJANI: We should wait.

AMANPOUR: I know what the government has done. As you say, you're giving death penalties and other harsh penalties to what you call enmity towards God.

LARIJANI: For terrorist activities.

AMANPOUR: Enmity towards God. And it seems like a lot of--


AMANPOUR: -- protest is falling into that category.

LARIJANI: No. You should not be mistaken. This is legal word. Those who start -- indulge themselves in terrorist activities, in the -- with the aim of changing the regime or the government or -- or killing and bringing and damaging the security of the people, this is a legal term. This is a kind of war with God.

If you damage the life of the people, it is a war that is against the will of God. So definitely those indulge in terrorist activities, they are pursued by law. They will face a very harsh sentence, if it is proved by the court, in fact.

AMANPOUR: All right. We're going to--

LARIJANI: So as far as the -- OK.

AMANPOUR: We're going to take a break, and we're going to come back and continue this.

LARIJANI: You asked about the demonstration.

AMANPOUR: Yeah, well, what I want to know is why so many people are falling into this new sort of legal parameter and those people who are protecting, are they terrorists?

LARIJANI: No, just -- just -- just -- not -- not -- not -- no, the protest is not terrorists. To protest is not a terrorist act, quite differentiation between them.

AMANPOUR: OK. We'll continue right after a break. Stay with us, Mr. Larijani.




IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Abdul Hossein Ruholamini at the memorial service for his son, Mohsen. The ceremony was broadcast last summer on state TV. When anti-government demonstrations erupted across Iran last summer, the younger Ruholamini was one of the estimated thousands of protestors to be detained. But within weeks of arriving at Kahrizak, he was dead.

Initially, the official cause of death was meningitis. But then the father and influential government insider objected and demanded an official investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This systemic problem has to be corrected. When these problems are corrected, this country will move forward. Everyone in this country belongs to one big family. Their hearts are invested in it. And Mohsen was one of them.


AMANPOUR: Abdul Hossein Ruholamini finally received the results of that investigation last month when an Iranian parliamentary commission ruled that the prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, was responsible for three deaths in the Kahrizak detention center, including that of Ruholamini's son, Mohsen.

Now, joining me again is Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights, in Geneva tonight.

Again, let's talk about that case. In retrospect, would you say that the authorities claiming that Mohsen Ruholamini's death was because of meningitis was a mistake, was a gross exaggeration, that (OFF-MIKE)

LARIJANI: Well, I lost your sound at this moment.


LARIJANI: Do you hear me?

AMANPOUR: Yes, I do.

LARIJANI: Well, Mr. Ruholamini -- yes, OK, Mr. Ruholamini is a very close friend of mine, and all of us, we are regretting so much that he lost his son. We are not claiming that wrongdoing and unlawful act doesn't happen in Iran. It happens everywhere in the world. Claim to pure perfection definitely is too good to be true.


LARIJANI: But the fact is that, when we discovered that there is some wrongdoing somewhere, like in Kahrizak, it took us -- took us only 48 hours to close it down and indulge in a full investigation of the people who were responsible for that, being the police officer, being (inaudible) of the detention center, contrary to, for example, Guantanamo, which is still -- it is working. And after a lot of discoveries, still the government does not open any case for the responsibility of those who have been tortured to death in that prison.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Larijani -- Mr. Larijani, Guantanamo Bay was clearly a major problem for the United States. But as you know, the current administration has banned harsh interrogations and torture. I would like to ask you, though, that you have just said that--

LARIJANI: What about pursuing? What about -- what about pursuing those who are responsible for torture?

AMANPOUR: Well, they're trying to close down Guantanamo.

LARIJANI: That was stopped by a decree by president.

AMANPOUR: As you know, they're trying to close down Guantanamo--

LARIJANI: Yes, that--

AMANPOUR: -- and that was a major change between the Obama administration and the previous administration. But back to Kahrizak, you said that you had conducted an investigation, within 48 hours the place was closed down, but what about Saeed Mortazavi, the prosecutor general, who was basically deemed responsible by the parliament for several deaths there? What's happened to him? He's still operating.

LARIJANI: Well -- well -- well, if the result of an investigation of the parliament is these kind of things, this does not have -- this is not the end of a legal process. This may start and give a reason that the legal process should take a closer look, but anything should come out of the legal process.

AMANPOUR: Do you think--

LARIJANI: Being Mortazavi or any other person, they -- we should wait for the result of the legal process and court decision.

AMANPOUR: Do you think -- given the fact--

LARIJANI: Nobody will replace the court and their final decision.

AMANPOUR: OK. The court -- the judiciary is run by one of your brothers, and you are the head of the Human Rights Council in Iran.


AMANPOUR: Do you believe that the prosecutor who's been accused by a significant parliamentary committee of which another brother of yours is the speaker of the parliament, do you believe that Mr. Mortazavi should be punished, censured, or in some way held accountable for the deaths of those people in Kahrizak prison, which you've had to close down?

LARIJANI: Well, I believe we should do our utmost rigorous investigation without any favor to anybody to discover who was and who were responsible for any wrongdoing in that direction, and they should face the harshest possible -- I mean, penalty for their action and punishment.

So it is premature and it is not prudent for me to accuse a person, an individual, on the national TV or in the press--

AMANPOUR: All right.

LARIJANI: -- but definitely, I'm one of those people who are pursuing the matter day by day.


For us, it is immensely important to see what is the root of that and to root out any procedure which leads to that--

AMANPOUR: OK, let me--

LARIJANI: -- to this kind of activity.

AMANPOUR: OK. Well, certainly a lot of people will be following that procedure. Let me go back to executions. Iran leads the world -- well, actually, just after China -- in executions. It also leads the world in juvenile executions. Children who are accused of having committed crimes have been executed once they reach a certain age.

But you just told me that executions and the death penalty is reserved for, for instance, terrorists. Let me ask you about this. Imad Bari (ph), who is a well-known international human rights activist and has received prestigious prizes abroad, has been sentenced to death. And he has not had any access to his family. He's in solitary confinement. How is his case related to terrorism?

LARIJANI: Well, first of all, Imad Bari (ph) is not sentenced to death, first of all. This is a wrong result that you claim.

Secondly, the 70 percent of the death sentences in Iran is for the drug trafficking and narcotic dealing, which, in fact, I am against that law (ph), which says that if somebody carries more than five kilos of opium, he should be punished by death penalties, because this opium is starting from Afghanistan and destinating towards Europe. If Europe is not ready to help in curtailing this movement, why Iran should take the blame and the burden of fighting with narcotic dealers? This is one reason for that.

As far as the juveniles, the death penalty, it is not death penalty in the legal sense. It is called kasas (ph). It means that, first of all, the age, if it is between 15 and 18 years, this is the area of dispute. If their age is less than 15, well, we consider them -- they should not get any capital punishment. Between 15 and 18, there is a dispute among the legal experts in Iran that, are they held responsible for their action or not?

So only places when there is a death penalty, it means that it should be executed. The government is telling the guardians or the blood owners (ph), the first-degree families of the victim, that they have a choice, but we always encourage the people not to ask for the -- for the death penalty.

AMANPOUR: Some -- some--

LARIJANI: There are numerous cases that were successful.

AMANPOUR: Right, and some numerous cases where you haven't been--

LARIJANI: We -- we try our best.

AMANPOUR: But let me -- let me ask you one more question.

LARIJANI: Successful, yes. Please.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you one more question about the American hikers who are in jail and who have not been able to see their families or their lawyers. Are you going to allow their families, their mothers to visit them in jail? And how is their trial going to proceed?

LARIJANI: Well, the embassy of Swiss in Tehran, they have -- they have access to legal issues of these people. And recently, they handed me a request that their family wants to visit them, and we are working on that.

AMANPOUR: But why not let them visit them?

LARIJANI: But let me make it clear that -- well, this is the request that I received about a week ago, and I'm working on that, and we should -- I should have arrange it with the people, security people and intelligence people, because the question is that whether they -- they were hikers or not.

AMANPOUR: Yes, but--

LARIJANI: I -- I feel -- and I wish that they were definitely hikers, but they should be cleared up (ph) from moving into Iranian land by citizens of very hostile country toward Iran and in a very volatile area.


LARIJANI: So my wish is that -- that they should be totally cleared from these accusations, but they should -- they should go on interrogation. But anyhow, this happened to Iranian people who were hijacked in--


AMANPOUR: OK, Mr. Larijani.

LARIJANI: -- Iraq, and they were detained by (inaudible) by American, and they never let any of their family to have access to them.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Larijani--

LARIJANI: This is -- American action -- yes--

AMANPOUR: Thank you so much for joining us.

LARIJANI: -- is not defensible, as well.

AMANPOUR: Unfortunately, we are out of time. Thank you very much, indeed, for joining us. We'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script." If the anti-government protests in Iran have one symbol, it's probably Neda Agha-Soltan. She's the 26- year-old woman who was shot and killed during an anti-government protest in Tehran last June.

Video of her last moments were captured on a cell phone and broadcast around the world. The government claimed that her killing was staged to discredit them. But still, the images became a powerful rallying point for the opposition and showed the extraordinary power of social networking, at least when it comes to spreading images, although Iranian opposition figures and political analysts are now having second thoughts about the politically transformative power of social networking.

Now the anonymous Iranians who recorded her death and uploaded the images onto the Internet are being honored with a prestigious George Polk journalism award here in the United States.

That's it for now. We'll be back tomorrow with a look at Venezuela. In the meantime, you can catch our daily podcast on, and we're going to have a Web chat with Mohammad Javad Larijani right after this broadcast. Goodbye from New York.