EU Should Not Remain Silent on Iran’s Violence Against Protestors
Addressing the Nuclear Deal is Not Enough; Rights Issues Are Central to Region’s Stability
28-Country Bloc Should Call on Iranian Authorities to Respect Right to Protest
January 14, 2020 – As state security forces in Iran use potentially lethal force against civilian protestors for the second time in less than two months, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) calls upon the EU to exercise its role as a key interlocutor with Iran to urge the authorities there to cease violent acts against the protestors, respect Iranians’ right to peaceful protest, and guarantee that their safety will be protected.
Videos that the Center for Human Rights in Iran has obtained from reliable sources inside Iran and which have been verified show state forces using tear gas against protesting civilians and also appear to show security forces using live ammunition against the protestors.
“The EU should not remain silent in the face of state violence against protestors. Such silence gives a green light for the violent suppression of civilians exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI executive director.
The protestors took to the streets after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) admitted it was responsible for accidentally shooting down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on January 8, which killed 176 people, after denying any involvement for 3 days.
The protests, while triggered by outrage over the loss of life and the attempted cover-up, reflect intensifying public outrage over political repression, state impunity for rights violations, the lack of transparency and accountability, and the overall political and economic mismanagement of the country.
There is a threat of more loss of life in Iran at present if protests continue. More than 300—possibly significantly more—civilians were killed by state security forces in the protests that broke out in November 2019 after the government announced a gasoline price hike. Officials still have not released any numbers for those killed or injured and there has been no accountability for the use of live ammunition against unarmed protestors and bystanders despite broad international condemnation of the state’s violence.
Yet so far, the response from Europe has been limited. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted on January 13, “We are following the protests in Tehran very closely. People have the right to freedom of expression without reprisals & persecution. Iran would do well to make sure incidents from past demonstrations do not happen again.”
A January 13 joint France, UK and Germany statement, however, made no reference to the state’s violent response to the protests, mentioning only concern over upholding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal and regional security, and on January 14, the three countries issued a statement focused exclusively on the nuclear deal, indicating it was triggering the JCPOA’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism because Iran was no longer in compliance with the JCPOA. UK foreign ministry tweets, meanwhile, have only urged a transparent investigation into the downing of the jetliner and criticism over the temporary detainment of the British ambassador in Iran. To date, no EU statement on the protests has been forthcoming.
The EU’s silence on the protests in Iran and the state’s violent response does not serve the EU’s own stated strategic objectives and interests. Those objectives include the maintenance of regional stability, the fight against international terrorism, stability in world oil markets, and addressing the international migrant and refugee crisis.
None of these issues can be isolated from the issue of human rights. The denial of basic civil and political rights and liberties in Iran and the criminalization of dissent and human rights activism, where those who question the Iranian state’s policies are arrested and imprisoned, is directly linked to the intensifying domestic instability in Iran. Indeed, the protestors’ demands consistently hark back to repression, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, and mismanagement—and this instability will impact all of the EU’s core objectives.
Continued or worsened instability in Iran could:
- Complicate the global fight against terrorism, in which Iran has played both a positive and negative role;
- Exacerbate the refugee and migration issue from the region, which has already had significant political, economic and humanitarian consequences;
- Increase regional tensions which would only raise further nuclear proliferation concerns;
- Impact world oil markets, with economic consequences for both producers and consumers.
“If the EU is concerned about peace and security on the regional level, these issues are inseparable from peace and security on the country-level, particularly Iran” said Ghaemi, “Iran’s stability cannot be divorced from regional issues that are critical to the world.”
The EU should call on the authorities in Iran to:
- Guarantee the safety and security of all protestors, from state security forces and semi-official militias.
- Uphold its obligations under international and Iranian law to respect Iranians’ right to dissent, peaceful protest, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
- Immediately release all political prisoners and citizens who were detained for their role in peaceful protest.
- Conduct a thorough and independent investigation into state violence against protestors in November 2019 and any injuries or deaths during the current protests.
The EU’s voice on Iran is influential. With the deterioration in US-Iran relations since 2018, the 28-member country bloc has emerged as the principal Western interlocutor with Iran. The EU has taken a leading global role advocating for regional stability and adherence to the nuclear deal (JCPOA) with Iran. Trade relations are also significant, providing a degree of leverage with the Islamic Republic; the EU is Iran’s third largest trade partner, after China and the United Arab Emirates, accounting for 16.3% of Iran’s total trade, and European business investment is much sought-after in Iran.
“The domestic instability we are seeing in Iran now is the product of continuing repression and the denial of basic rights and liberties in Iran, and there is grave potential for further violations, violence and loss of life,” said Ghaemi. “It is essential that the EU takes a stand in defense of human rights.”