Broken Promises: Reclaiming and Supporting Iranian Human Rights
Okay, let’s get started again. So thank you to Secretary Pompeo. I have a pretty amazing boss, right? That was a great speech. (audience applauding) So as you just heard from Secretary Pompeo, the United States believes strongly in supporting the rights of the people of Iran and in amplifying their voices as they call for the freedoms they so deeply deserve. To that end, I am now glad to be joined on stage by my friends and US officials who are working to ensure that we are able to continue to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its human rights abuses as we work together to empower the Iranian people. First we’ll begin with Assistant Secretary Destro to my left. We also have Dr. Bell and Ambassador Brownbeck, who we discussed earlier. And all three of them will be sharing some of their experiences working on these issues as it relates to Iran and human rights. What they’ve learned this morning and how they’re putting these lessons into practice. We will, after this session and a few Q & A, we will take questions from the audience as well. So let’s first begin with some observations from Assistant Secretary Destro.
Well thank you, Morgan. We had a very interesting listening session this morning with representatives of organized labor from around the world and from the Iranian community. The rights of labor to organize are not often thought about usually as matters of international or even domestic human rights. But the important thing is that if you look at the economic problems that Iran is having, you don’t, as the Secretary put it very well, you don’t really help your economy by oppressing your workers. And so what we need to be doing is, and I think there was general agreement among the group, is that there needs to be an international effort to encourage the Iranian government to be true to the promises it made when it joined the International Labor Organization and other international labor conventions. So I suggested to them that we have a series of working groups to plan on the kinds of things we would do to positively encourage the Iranian government to engage effectively with its own labor people and to live up to its own promises. So I’ll just leave it at there and I’ll turn it over to my colleagues here.
[Morgan] It should be on.
Than you, Morgan. And I’d like to say thank you to all those here today that really, by your presence here, have emphasized the importance of this grave topic. It was my distinct privilege to sit in with Brian Hook this morning and represent him. Unfortunately, he can’t be here right now. But to be part of this morning’s listening session, I really want to thank the participants this morning for your insights, your poignant and really at times very personal and touching insights about human rights and then also touching on women’s rights in the process. Your stories certainly confirm, amplify, and really put a personal face on what many of us know on an intellectual level. But to really try to understand it on a deeper, personal level the pervasive and deplorable conditions of women’s rights in Iran. And hopefully today we can begin the process that will do justice for the dreams and aspirations of women in that society. Clearly by all accounts women’s rights in Iran are fairly restricted. Iranian women face pervasive discrimination in the political, economic, and social spheres within Iran. The women and girls certainly face personal and legal discrimination in areas related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, employment, child custody, that really is shocking to many of us in the United States that really can’t appreciate the restrictions that are placed upon that and how women are disproportionately treated in that. We just touched a couple of the areas. Certainly in the political sphere, it seems evident that the regime views the repression of women as a key pillar in its revolutionary agenda. If we look at how women have had their dignity attacked for over four decades by this regime and that there’s a pervasive discrimination on all aspects of women’s lives, education, economic freedom, and even areas of freedom of expression and inheritance that I think on the one level we can’t appreciate how deep those go down. Women can not pass their nationality on to their foreign-born spouses or children, like men can. A married woman may not obtain a passport or travel outside of the country without the written permission of her husband. Women are barred from becoming judges. In court, a woman’s testimony is worth half the testimony of a man. And so here in the United States where we believe in equal protection before the law, it seems shocking that we would allow or condone this kind of brazen affront to that. And then dozens of women, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, remain imprisoned in Iran and face harsh sentences today. I was encouraged today by the incredible professional group that was from the diaspora that could share their experiences and that just the myriad of experiences and perspectives we have I think are very enriching to me. And it gives a view that sometimes here in Washington we may not appreciate. And as you know, in the economic world, government policies really have affected the opportunities for women, effectively limiting women’s access to the workplace. And women in Iran make up half of the university graduates but their participation in the job market is about 15%. And so if you think of the incredible potential that’s been constrained by these repressive policies. Many jobs are not open to women and women are significantly underrepresented among the managers in both public and private sectors. And certainly as you look at the World Economic Forum’s reporting, they place Iran 142 out of 149 countries in their survey looking at economic participation and opportunity for women, education attainment, where the Iranian women have been quite high, which I think raises them up above 149 to 142, and then political empowerment, and then finally health and survival. In all of those areas the pervasive discrimination has taken hold. And then lastly in kind of social and legal areas, as many of you know, you heard from the Secretary that whether it’s restrictions on women from aged seven on required to wear the veil on their job, the modesty requirements in public and how those are enforced by the volunteer members of the Basij. The impact about how vaguely defined morality laws can be used against women. And ultimately women become censored in terms of their ability in arts, in music, and other forms of cultural expression. That all are freedoms that we’ve come to take for granted here. And then I think with that, I’ll close here and I know we’ll have some questions with that.
[Morgan] Great, Ambassador Brownbeck.
Pass me that mic. Thank you very much. And I want to thank everybody for being here today. I’ve worked over the years with a number of people in the Iranian diaspora. It’s such an incredibly talented community that just bespeaks of the abilities that are there and that are lost in Iran because people are penned up and they aren’t allowed to be free. And I just second what the Secretary said about the incredible contribution that you make to this country and thank you for it. It’s just people shouldn’t have to leave their home country to be able to experience some freedom and opportunities. We had a meeting today here at State Department that is impossible to have under the current regime in Iran. We had Iranian Muslims, Jews, Ba’hais, and Christians all meeting in the same room to talk about religious freedom and the lack of it that each of their groups are experiencing in Iran. We had two women in the room who were sentenced and spent time in Evin Prison, a prison that should be closed. That place shouldn’t be allowed to continue to even exist as the symbol of oppression that it’s become.
Had a number of very good suggestions. I do want to say to people here, keep feeding those in to us. The Secretary mentioned the thousands of comments and evidence that you’re sending to us, keep sending those in of specific examples. I’ve got several of them today. One I want to call out in particular. It’s usually this time of year that the Iranian regime starts rounding up Christians as a Christmas present to them just so they can’t practice their faith and celebrate the holiday of Christmas. Don’t do that. The world community should put pressure on Iran not to round up Christians so they can’t celebrate Christmas. It seems apparent on its face but it’s a tactic the regime often uses around these major holidays and celebrations. And I also want to say, the world community is taking more notice. There are people in our group that said any sort of trade deals that are done with Iran need to include a human rights component to it that we’re not gonna trade with a regime that doesn’t respect fundamental human rights like religious freedom, but across the board. And we shouldn’t just bifurcate those out and say okay, we’ll deal with you in trade but we’ll just talk about human rights. Those should be connected together to push and to push hard on the Iranian regime.
So thank you. The United States does stand with you and we’re gonna continue to do that.
Thank you so much, Ambassador.
So we’re gonna continue the discussion but I have to, I think what the three of them said was pretty amazing. But especially Dr. Bell, you spoke about the Iranian women and the plight of what they have to endure under this regime. And I am so incredibly lucky to be able to work with Secretary Pompeo and to travel with him around the world and meet so many different groups of people. But I have to say the Iranian women, Persian women here in the United States have just captured my heart like almost nowhere else in the world. Thank you.
The strength of the women in the diaspora community here, their perseverance. They’re a group of people that maybe shouldn’t have hope and when I’m feeling hopeless about what’s happening with the regime, Iranian women give me strength to keep going, to keep pursuing our policies. I was very lucky, thanks to our team that Brian Hook and Dr. Bell lead, to be able to do a video on White Wednesday, which was played around the world and it really captured the attention, we hope, of many Iranian women. White Wednesday in Iran is a day where women protest the compulsory wearing of the hijab. We’ve also seen tragedies in Iran. Do many of you remember Blue Girl that happened a few months ago? For those of you who don’t know, this was a brave young Iranian woman who died of self-immolation after she was sentenced to prison for trying to watch soccer match. So why I am incredibly, incredibly blessed to work with Brian and Dr. Bell and everyone here on stage on the policy of the Trump Administration, I just always have to say that we will continue to keep women’s rights at the forefront of everything that we do in this policy. And out of everyone in the world, Iranian women, you’re just special, really special.
So to Assistant Secretary Destro, you obviously help us focus on human rights here at the State Department and one of the questions that we often get is if we do end up negotiating a new and better deal with Iran, what happens to our push for human rights if that deal is reached and how is human rights, how is it a part of our maximum pressure campaign?
Well I think the easy answer to a very hard question is that we have to remember to put the human back in human rights. And so when we negotiate a deal, we spoke this morning about labor and about the need of people to organize and to be able to rely on their own government to keep the deals that it makes. Well, if we have a government that doesn’t keep deals with its own people, why are they gonna be keeping deals with us? So we have to be very specific with respect to here’s what we expect in the human rights field. Now it’s not for us to tell the Iranian people what they need by way of human rights. The Iranian people with whom I’ve been privileged to deal over the last 17 years, and I’ve been able to go to Iran a couple of times. And if you think the Iranian women that you’ve met here are impressive, you should see the Iranian women I’ve met there. These are not shrinking violets we’re talking about. These are very strong, very wonderful people. Anybody who has been, as I have, to the Tomb of Saadi in Shiraz knows the incredible romanticism and artistic splendor of Iran. We have to negotiate to let that become free.
As Michelangelo said, people need, he saw the angel in the piece of marble and he let it free. That’s what we need. The negotiation has to be a comprehensive agreement that takes the humanity, not just defense, not just anything else, but it takes it all. And we can do that. We have models, we’re doing that with USNTA today. And so I really do hope that they’ll come to the table and that they’ll talk seriously.
[Morgan] Dr. Bell, so there’s people, there’s plenty of critics and skeptics of the policies that we’re pursuing and some people say that we’re just trying to force regime change in Iran by focusing on human rights. Or they claim that we’re promoting one group over another. Can you answer those skeptical questions?
Yeah, thanks Morgan. And I’ll address a couple of aspects of the policy as well. Certainly no, we’re not supporting one group over another and no, this is not a cover for regime change. Let me try to explain some of the aspects of that. The administration’s policy consistently since 2017 and then when it’s announced in 2018, has been that the future of Iran will be up to and decided by the Iranian people. Ultimately though our goal is not to pick the winners and losers externally for Iran. That will be up to the people of Iran but the idea is to set the conditions by which that will be done through free, fair democratic elections.
That what we’ve learned in the listening sessions, it seems clear that the voice of the Iranian people is what the regime elites most fear. And that our confidence, our faith is that in those free, fair, open elections, that that voice would come out. Now we are seeking in our policy, fundamental changes to the character of the Iranian regime’s policies. And I can talk about some of those. Because the max pressure campaign is really trying to change the policies of the Iranian regime. Now some of those are the foreign policies that are destabilizing the Middle East, proliferating arms, advanced weapons, to dangerous proxies, transporting militant groups throughout the region, and conducting illegal attacks on global trade and commerce. But also there are policies at home. They’re endemic corruption on how they treat their own people, as we’ve heard today. From our view, the Iranian people deserve a representative government and our goal, as through the campaign, is to set the conditions for that, exposing the behaviors of the government that are reprehensible in the process. Our position is that human rights are inalienable. They’re not subject to being negotiated away or ignored in a quest for a better or more comprehensive deal to replace the JCPOA. Certainly the critics now would like us to conciliate Iran. To bring them back to the bargaining table, to give them more pallets of cash in the process. And our view is that appeasement is only gonna fuel to a greater extent the reprehensible activities that we’ve already seen. And so if our goal is to foment more violence, perhaps that’s an approach but our goal is just quite the opposite. Our sense is that the human rights record of the regime in itself should help us build diplomatic unity in the international community to present to Iran the conditions that we expect them to adhere to, not the concessions that they hope to win from any negotiations in the process. And so perhaps that’s fairly a one-sided negotiation. But I believe through exposing the human rights record, exposing the regime’s malicious behavior in the region, the violent destabilizing activities, the ballistic missiles, the human rights abuses, the abuses of the various militia, that we can begin to create an international voice, recognition, outrage, and then finally concerned action against this. And our goal is not to return to the old Iran deal. Ultimately we’d seek a new and comprehensive deal but ultimately a government that represents the people with the voices and the aspirations of the Iranian people.
[Morgan] Great thank you. Thank you, Dr. Bell.
So Ambassador Brownbeck, when we talk about religious freedom in Iran, sometimes there is a criticism that we are singling out Shia Islam or that the United States is somehow at war with Islam. Can you give us your perspective on that?
That is absolutely false. We stand for religious freedom for everybody, everywhere, all the time. That’s our policy, that’s our view. And I would point out that my first foreign trip ended up in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh advocating that the Rohingya were a Muslim population be allowed to return freely and safely into Burma. This administration has been the staunchest, most vocal group on what’s taking place in Western China in Xinjiang to the Muslims in that region. We advocate for everybody’s religious freedom. The problem is that in Iran and the Iranian government, they want this absolute allegiance to their view of a theological regime and it doesn’t allow for any deviance. So you can’t practice your faith in any other form, even another form of Islam is persecuted. And that’s what we have such umbrage at is that this is the sort of effort to force everybody into one size, one size fits all. We believe this is a God-given right that you have to pick your own religious adherence, whatever it might be, or no religious adherence at all, if you choose that route, that’s our problem with this regime. And by the way, they’re in complete violation of Article XVIII of the UN Declaration of Human Rights where people have the right to religious freedom. This is in that basic, it’s in most basic documents. It’s even in the Iranian Constitution that they don’t follow either for their own people on religious freedom.
I might also add it’s also in the Qu’ran that there’s no compulsion in matters of religion.
So now we’re actually gonna give some of you in the audience a chance to ask the question. I’m gonna try to take one from the members of the diaspora community, someone from the Diplomatic corps, and then also a question from a journalist as well. So Gabe has the microphone and do we have someone? Okay, sir.
[Man] Thank you so much. We saw systematic violence against the Iranian people, the Iranian protest in Iran in all cities in Iran from Iranian regime. What’s the actually mechanism to report and open a case about this systematic violence in United Nations Security Council?
So the question I think is is are we taking up this case at the UN Security Council? Is that the question? Dr. Bell, do you want to—
I’m not aware that we are. It’s actually a good suggestion and I’ll certainly follow it up.
Yeah, do we have someone form the Diplomatic Corp who’d like to ask a question? Go to the next, yeah, that’s fine.
[Man] Thank you. I want to thank you for your strong stance with the Iranian people. I really appreciate it, thank you. Many times you have expressed the changed behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the same time you support the Iranian people. But Iranian people want to have complete change, regime change.
Thank you. Don’t you think there is a conflict between these two views. The same time you are supporting Iranian people but you didn’t mention regime change? Thank you.
I think the short answer to your question is found in the name of the bureau that I had, which is Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. And so regime change in Iran has to come from within Iran.
President Trump has regularly talked about the need of governments to protect their own people. It is not for us here in the United States to change the Iranian regime. It’s for the Iranian people to change the Iranian regime. We can be supportive but we can’t interfere. And that’s a fine line. Different people define that differently. But it’s a conversation well worth having and I think if we’re raising the question.
Thank you, that’s a great question and I understand the challenge. And that ultimately what we seek is how can we use all measures short of imposing our external will on Iran to try to encourage the changes of behavior, the changes of policy that we see? And that if you think back over the last 20 years since 9/11, our experience with armed regime change really doesn’t always produce the types of legitimate governments that are seen in the eyes of their people as legitimate that protect and serve the population. That can really serve the entire group of the population themselves. And that what we seek is a legitimate government that actually serves that responsibility and that role. Ultimately, our sense is through diplomatic isolation, moral suasion, bringing the international community together, and to include an extremely tough sanctions regime that we can avoid armed conflict but that we can also pressure the Iranian government to change it’s policies and to begin the process of change that would give voice to the Iranian people in the elections going forward.
Gabe, I think we have someone from the media. Some members of the Iranian media perhaps here.
[Gabe] We’ve got one of those questions and we have one more from our listen session.
[Magda] Hi, Magda Fareed. I’m a Boren scholar and a journalist. I specialize in soft power and people-to-people diplomacy. Over 100 years ago, Howard Baskerville is a missionary. He went to Iran and taught English and gave his life in constitutional revolution. Up to today there still people put yellow rose on his grave. And those are some of the sentiments we need to have more and I would appreciate if the US policy could incorporate more of these people-to-people diplomacy and perhaps use VLA as the most effective public diplomacy tool but it’s been completely misused. To Ambassador Brownbeck, I’ve known you since 2003 when you sponsored Iran Democracy Act. And when I asked you why would a senator from midwest care so much about Iran, you said it’s because you care about freedom. I’m glad you’re following up to your promise to the Iranian people. And my grandmother passed away two years ago and she was a devout Muslim and gave me a cross that she brought from Iran. She said give this to someone who’s a good Christian. So as a symbol of friendship, and I know she’s watching, I want to give this to you.
I am very touched, that’s beautiful. My mother grew up on the property where John Brown would stay when he was in Kansas. And some of you may not know the US history too much or Kansas history at all or care, but John Brown was kind of the guy that led the Civil War. He was the match, there as pool of gas out there and was the match that lit it because he couldn’t stand slavery. He was just so passionately opposed to slavery. And there were people that at the time that were kind of well I’m against slavery but let’s just go on. He couldn’t and many days I feel the same way. We’ve got to fight these things. We’ve been given such blessings of freedom here. And when people are imprisoned, we should feel their chains and we should fight against it. And constantly this very, thank you very much.
I think we’re gonna need some tissues on stage. No one told me, that was really, really beautiful and I’m sure you’re right, your grandmother is looking down and she must be so proud of you right now as well. So we’re actually, I’m so sorry we’re running behind on this panel. We’re gonna have to get to our next panel where we’re gonna have survivors of religious persecution. So thank you to my three colleagues for coming today. Thank you so much.
Thank you, sir.
Thanks Morgan very much.
That was beautiful. Sure, I’ll say that. You got it. Thank you and I appreciate it.
Okay, so let’s get started on our last panel. We wanted to make sure that we had a chance for the Iranian people to tell their stories themselves. Today we have three Iranians with unique stories and experiences. At the State Department, we are proud to be able to give them a voice here since Iran has tried to silence them before. First is Nazila Golestan, an anti-corruption activist who raises awareness for the victims of the regime in Iran, their acts of corruption and abuse of power. She has been arrested for her activism and is involved with many of the fights for Iranian women. Next we have Dabrina Veterans, who I actually interviewed during UN General Assembly Week, who’s father and mother were sentenced to prison in Iran for the crime of forming home churches. And you heard the Secretary speak about her as well. And of course we have Ahmad Batni who is a journalist, filmmaker, photographer, and human rights activist. He spent over nine years in an Iranian prison where he was tortured before he came to the United States. Nazila, let’s start with you.
I would like to take this opportunity and thank the US Government. For the first time in four decades of struggle of Iranian freedom seekers to establish a sacred democracy, United States supports the Iranian people and repeatedly condemns human rights violations in Iran. Thank President Trump and thank you Secretary Pompeo for his speech and thank you, Mr. Brownbeck and all the team. God bless America and God bless democratic Iran.
Every morning I was going to school we started the class with the slogans, death to America, death to Israel. Salute to Khomeini and my God reduce my longevity and add to his lifetime. Why many representatives of regimes such as Javed Zarif were studying and living in America. Today, as all families are held hostages by the regime, the son of Zarif, Heptagon and others are living in the United States and easily take advantages of this great country. They are coming (audience applauding) to Europe and United States with the mottoes of White House must become the mosque and Israel must be moved from the world map to expand the Islamic revolution. But today the Iranian people in Iran chants, America is not the enemy. The enemy is right here, (speaking in foreign language). On 1980 it was a familiar party and all of a sudden we were arrested by the Islamic Revolution agents with their heavy weapon and my mother and the other women were arrested as well. Their crime was that the men and women were together. My mother was in a dark anger because the regime had just killed her son 18-years-old. She was shouting Khomeini the murderer, death on you. I was crying and I was only 8-years-old and I knew if my mother was taken away she might be sentenced to death. A Basiji guy put his gun on my forehead and screamed these guys, these kids that are growing up in the Westernization, must be killed. From my early childhood I learned that we were at war with this brutal regime and that I started to be a soldier since today and we fight against this regime, Islamist Fascist regime, in Iran. The first time I was arrested, I was 15-years-old. My crime was not obeying the Islamic way. Three of my friends and I were taken to the prison. They were taking us to the cell of prostitutes and released for several hours. The women who looked at us as a prey. It was a few hours but for us it passed like months. I don’t know how that they knew that I was diagnosed as an ADHD child and that I had 15 years and they injected me with drugs and I was hospitalized for a year and I couldn’t go to the first year of my high school. Mitras, my friend, they put her legs in a bag of crock rocks and we were screaming. She was admitted to a psychological hospital for six months, then her parents tried to get her out of Iran but before, she committed suicide. And the last November, Salnitta was found shot in the head by security forces on last November and she had just 14. This story continued until I worked for the Minister of Agriculture and after my high school, in rural development. Women with no jobs and we were trying to provide them with opportunities to vote but they had to be educated before. They had the job that a woman should work and where she would work in society. It’s not just about tailoring for a woman and it’s not problem for a woman to work alongside men and be committed together. I was also arrested during a speech I had give to rural women near Hamadan in the west of Iran for the propagation of wisdom culture for the woman. After the disaster that happened in Quadon Ashgar, the students’ movement after Hotem. I’m not going to describe this sad history. I was fired from the university for a year and I left Iran to France. Since after the green movement and the movement in 2017, despite the claims oppression of the people in Iran and the persecution of all families and friends in Iran, we continued this struggle. However, November protests in Iran was different from other protests. This uprising has a message from the Iranian people. A religious slogan never heard in the streets. Protesters all together showed solidarity against the Islamic regime. The Islamic regime has tried to tell the world that the imposed sanctions are a maximal pressure on the Iranian people. They said that the Iranian people are hungry. The reformists called this practice on 2017, they called it the revolution era of the hungry. But these hungry people in November did not shoplift a supermarket, no food was stolen, banks Revolutionary Guard stations, and Supreme Leader offices set on fire. The Friday Imam offices has burned. The Islamic Seminary for Women in Isbahar set on fire. November 2019 was Iranian renaissance. The Iranian people have shown the world that they are more thirsty than hungry. They are thirsty for dignity, for freedom, and humanity. Political Islam, which began in Egypt a century ago and officially recognized by establishing Islamic government in Iran in ’79, has lost its legislative by the Iranian, Iraqis, and the Iranian people. We have witnessed a collapse of Nazi fascism, Apartheid South Africa, Soviet Communists in the last century and today in the future we will put an end to political Islam and produce Islamic regime in Iran with people of Iran. Also solidarity with the people of Iraq and Lebanon. In the name of all people who were put in prison for freedom, for the dignity and peace in Iran, we call friends here. We call upon the leaders of the United States and the free world to support the struggles of the people of Iran against this kleptocractic, theocratic regime and through their strong and firm actions as the following. The access of Iranian government to satellite by any sort of service must be disconnected. This will create immediate problem for banking services in Iran and also will stop the Islamic regime’s antecedent propaganda from reaching Iranian cities and villages. The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcast, IRIB, and its affiliates, which holds a state monopoly on broadcast news we can air, must ban from operating in the free world. The Iranian ambassadors, we hope the Iranian ambassadors in Europe must be summoned, questioned, and admonished over brutal violations of human rights against Iranian citizens and this was to return from Iran. In the end, I just want to talk about Hershel Dragmonia. Today is his birthday, 28th birthday. He was last November in Cortisan and they have arrested him from hospital and they have broken his legs, his hands, and they put him in the dam in Cortisan and the parents find him last week and today’s his birthday. I wanted that just to think about every Iranian that they killed in Iran. Thank you again.
[Morgan] Absolutely. Thank you so much.
That’s a beautiful message Nazila, thank you. Dabrina, we were able to speak during the UN General Assembly Week when we were with Ambassador Brownbeck and President Trump and Secretary Pompeo talking about religious freedom. And we do these videos around the world when I travel and we tend to make them light and funny but this was a very serious week. And I have to tell you, Dabrina, out of all the videos that we’ve been able to do, your video touched the heart of my parents so much. They thought the story of you and how you were standing up for your parents and what your family has gone through. And so I just wanted you to know that your story is having an impact and I hope that you can share this now with the international community.
Thank you very much. As Secretary Pompeo already mentioned, this Christmas season is a very difficult season for Christians in Iran. In 2014, 10 clothed officers raided my family’s home and arrested all the Meshindis. They arrested my father and took him to the prison where he spent 65 days in solitary confinement and another week in a suite, as they call it, with 20 other prisoners. In 2018 we’ve seen during this Christmas season more than 141 Christians have been arrest. Now it’s 2019. Just two weeks ago two Christian men were arrested on the streets of Tehran. When they asked for an arrest warrant, the officers presented them instead with their guns and said either you come with us quietly or we’ll take you forcefully. They were arrested, kept in custody, were not allowed to contact their families. They went through days of interrogation, verbal harassment, were spat on, were bitten, threatened to be physically tortured. Finally, they were charged with acting against national security because of their Christian activities. This behavior has been a habit of Iranian Intelligence Service. They are closely monitoring Christians in Iran and together with Revolutionary Guard, raiding Christian gatherings, imprisoning them, arresting all the attendees, confiscating their properties, which is not legal. Those who are arrested are subjected to hours intensive interrogation, which are often brutal, as well as mental and physical torture. Most of these arrested prisoner are converts to Christianity but also recognized Christians, mainly evangelical Christians, who associate with converts are arrested, imprisoned, if discovered, like my own family. Article 18 is a London-based advocacy organization focusing on human rights and reported at least 14 Christians currently in prison facing sentences ranging from one to 10 years in prison. And they’re all deemed guilty of acting against national security, when the reality is that they were just gathering together to pray and worship, which is their right by the constitution and the international covenant of the country, which Iran is a signatory. Ambassador Brownback has already mentioned that Iran has signed both the Universal Declaration of Human Right and the Binding International Covenant of Civil and Political Right, both of which compel Iran to provide total religious freedom for all of its citizens, including the right to change one belief and to share that belief with others. But this is not the reality. If you do that, if you don’t stand or agree to the Shia Islam according to the interpretation of the elite rule, you are not, those freedoms are not in existence for you. This year in 2019, at least 57 Christians have been arrested and at least 48 of the Christians who’ve been arrested and charged in previous years continue to drag on indefinitely with no resolution to their case. The case of my parents, Victor Batamaz and Shamir Isabi is a case in point. They were told time and time again in 2019 to appear in a court for their next appeal, only to go and find out that their case had been postponed for unimaginable reasons, the latest of which was that the court was too crowded. It is two and a half years since my father, Pasavictor, was sentenced to 10 years in prison while my mother, Shamir Isabi, is waiting two years for her own five-year imprisonment appeal to be heard. This lack of process and the lengthy waiting time is a torture to these people. To my family and to all the other families who have been arrested and their families have been arrested for the peaceful practice of their faith. In many aspects, the Iranian government acts in a way that often contradicts itself as well as the constitution and the Binding International Covenant to which Iran is a party. This contradiction is putting the future of Christianity and Iran in a great peril. Thank you.
[Morgan] Thank you.
No one warned me how emotional this day was gonna be. Dabrina, we have people celebrating Christmas and Hannukah, Kwanzaa next week in the United States and it breaks my heart that you won’t be with your parents on Christmas next week. Mine will be in town and I’m gonna give them a big hug and we’re gonna say a prayer for your family. Ahmad, turning to you. You look so young it’s hard to believe that you’ve spent almost a decade of your life in an Iranian prison and tortured by this regime. You’re incredibly brave for coming here today so please tell us your story and what the international community can do to help people in Iran. And of course this is incredibly timely given the protests over the past few weeks. And we’ve been getting a lot of questions at the State Department around how many people are in prison, how many people have been killed during these protests? And my message is one is too many. One Iranian that is killed for peacefully protesting is too many.
One Iranian in prison is too many. Ahmad, tell us your story.
Thank you so much, ma’am. I appreciate it for this great event and my story is one of the old story of Iranian student movement. Two years ago, when I was 20-years-old student, Iranian regime jailed me for political activities. At that time we had a big protest against police and some pro-government forces who were responsible about killing students in dormitory. That’s why Iran Intelligence Services had a plan for us, scenario for us. At the beginning they said that you have to come in front of the Iran State TV and say that I’m a spy of United States and Israel. You have to say I got money from them to start this protest. That time a picture changed my life and separated me from other students. And a picture with a bloody T-shirt on my hands front page of Economist magazine. You know a lot of you saw this picture before. So they said that you have to come to the TV and say I made this picture with ketchup sauce or animal blood and it’s a fake. They said that we are representative of God and the earth and by this picture you show a bad image from our government to the world so based on Islamic rules in Iran, they called me mohorrid, somebody like fighting, an enemy of God, something like that, I don’t know. And the punishment of mohorrid is death sentence. I was lucky because after international pressure on Iran government, they changed court decision from capital punishment to 15 years prison. And I had this chance after year one to escape from prison to Iraq and Iraq to United States. But I think my story at this situation, my story is not that much important. You have a lot of activists increasingly in the same situation (speaking foreign language). A lot of people can not tell all of these names here. I think it’s important to describe for non-Iranian people why we are political dissidents. What Iranian government say that we are not accurate. Why they torture us, why they put us in the prison. I think the best answer for this question is in Revolutionary Guard Constitution. I’ve got my English version of it here. In first paragraph directly said that the Revolutionary Guard responsibility is protecting Islamic Revolution and exporting those values. Not protecting Iranian people, Iranian nation, nothing, just revolution. So the second question is, what is the values? Which values they have that kill people for that? So I brought a book here. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the actual book and I found an English version of that in Library of Congress. I made a copy and I brought the information of this book in library. If you want, go there and check this content I will provide you here. You can go there and I’ll give you this information. This name, the book name is “Legal Garcia”. I know a lot of you what is this book and what is the content of that. This book is one of the important book of Ayatollah Khomeini, the first super leader of Iran. The great architect of Islamic Republic of Iran. I’m going to show you an example of these people values in this book. I’m going to describe the ideology of Islamic Republic of Iran by this example. Do me a favor please. Please read this lines. I don’t want people to hear that from my mouth because—
Which part do you want me to do?
Yes, in here, problem 12 and the sentence is here.
I think that’s a little graphic so maybe not.
It’s graphic, let’s just put it that way. It’s not polite. My mother might be watching, I can’t repeat it.
Maziel, come here please. Yes, come here please.
[Maziel] He does that every time, every time you know.
Is this allowed at the State Department? Well, it’s graphic content so if you want to just close your ears.
[Morgan] Well, I think they made the point. Thank you.
Should I read it?
[Morgan] No, that’s okay.
You don’t want to, okay.
[Morgan] It’s graphic.
I’m glad that the State Department is R-rated.
Thank you, Maziel.
[Morgan] Yeah, keep going, sure.
We are not gonna talk about that in public. This is the book of super leader of Iran. This is the main book that Iranian government used that for Islamic rules there. Who are these people? What is their plan for us?
I talking to you, to policymakers, to politicians, to board leaders, up to you. You can trust this government. You can deal with them. You can negotiate with them. But these people do not have the minimum of morality for negotiation. And they are a big danger.
Thank you. And they are a big danger for civilization, trust me. Thank you.
Well, we’ve reached the end, the conclusion of our program. I want to thank the three of you for being so willing to come here and to tell your stories. And I want to thank everyone for attending today. And even though the circumstances are dire, I hope today is giving us all hope and that we can be as brave as all of you to tell our stories and to stand up against evilness in this world. Thank you.