Diane Sawyer of ABC’s ‘World News Tonight’ Interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
December 22, 2009
DIANE SAWYER: The three American hikers who say they accidentally wandered into Iranian territory while looking at waterfalls, Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal, and Sarah Shourd. You said you were going to do your best to set them free and to hope that it happened as soon as possible, are you still going to do your best to set them free?
AHMADINEJAD: Yes, but I’ve got a question for you, how do you know they have accidentally crossed into Iran, how do you know that they were looking at waterfalls?
DS: Do you have evidence that it was not accidentally, young people on a hike on a vacation?
AH: Who has told you this? Are you a judge? Permit me..have the intelligence agents told you that? It is a judge who should identify whether they have entered accidentally or intentionally. I don’t distinguish this and you don’t distinguish this. I announced that we don’t like anybody to be imprisoned, but if somebody commits a violation, a judge should investigate it. There is law.
DS: Will they go on trial?
AH: I am not a judge…
DS: Their mothers and families, in enormous anguish, have asked can they go to see them? Can they speak to them by telephone?
AH: We are upset too..
DS: Would you help arrange that?
AH: We are not happy about it either, we are unhappy that all prisoners in America, there are 3.5 million prisoners, we are unhappy about all of them. They are also away from their families. But a judge should make the judgment.
DS: They will go on trial?
AH: I am not a judge, I am not a judge. We should ask the judge. They might be able to do it. I think they have corresponded. We aren’t happy with the fact that people are imprisoned, but eventually if somebody commits a violation, the judge will attend to it. There is law.
DS: A question also about Iran and as I said we hope so much to be able to return ourselves and see what is happening but we see the videos on the Internet, we see the Twitter calls from the protestors in the street, we see the signs that say “Death to Dictator.” You have said that any one in Iran can express their point of view, that it is fully permitted. Are you saying these demonstrators in the next few days can go to the street in any number they want, and they can protest and they will be safe?
AH: Do you think such a thing exists in America? Can the people there come to the streets whenever they want, say whatever they want?
DS: You can apply for a permit, yes?
AH: Are you sure?
DS: And they can go to the street and express their opinions, yes?
AH: Are you sure?
DS: If you apply for a permit…
AH: During Pittsburgh meeting, there was a demonstration by 1,000 people. The police beat them and attacked them with tear gas and boiling water. A large number of people were arrested. Did they have the permission to demonstrate or had they come there without permission? Did they have the permission or not?
DS: But thousands of people are allowed to come out and criticize the government, routinely.
AH: It is the same in Iran, but my question to you is, those people who were beaten in Pittsburgh, were arrested and attacked with tear gas, what were they saying? What was their demand? Was it against the law or was it legal? Why were they beaten?
DS: I would like to debate it, but I’m afraid our time is so short. I want to make sure that I ask this question because so many people have written here in the United States about it. They are reporting that there is a division in the Iranian government between you and the Supreme National Security Council. Is there is a division in the Iranian government now between you and the Ayatollah [Ali Hoseyni] Khamenei and the council on nuclear issues? And what about the division we see with the Ayatollah [Hussein-Ali] Montazeri, with [Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani taking to the streets to criticize the government.
AH: Well, in every country — translate it for me. She didn’t get me.
AH: In Iran we have got freedom, more than what there is in America.
AH: They are free to speak and demonstrate. Yes, we have got elections in Iran. Whoever wins the most votes forms the government. Some people oppose the government. This is natural. There is no problem. They speak their mind.
DS: But as you know, human rights activists, Amnesty International says 4,000 people were arrested among the protesters, that there have been executions, some of them, mass executions of protestors, striking fear in their hearts.
AH: These things have to do with the judiciary. We have got laws. There is the judge. These people have got lawyers. These are not political questions. They are judicial and legal questions. In our country, we have got a detailed process of legal investigation. There are five stages of investigation with a review stage included. Of course, the judiciary has not yet announced anything. In Iran, the judiciary is independent. I would like to repeat my question to you. Were human rights considered in relation to those people who were beaten up in Pittsburgh and inhaled poisonous gas, tear gas? There are 3.5 million prisoners in America. Has the legal process been applied in relation to them or have they been arrested illegally? In proportion to the population, the number of prisoners in America is five times as much as that in Iran.
DS: But not political prisoners…
AH: Do the American people commit more offences or human rights are violated? Which one is true?