Iran: Hope Is in the Air20.1.2014
Parliament's Iran delegation recently visited the nation for the first time in six years. Tarja Cronberg reports.
The European parliament's Iran delegation visited Tehran for the first time in six years in December, against the backdrop of progress made in the Geneva talks on Iran's nuclear programme. Iran's new president, the tentative nuclear agreement and the changes that has brought about made the visit all the more significant.
It is not, however, just the international atmosphere that has changed. There is no doubt that the people of Iran have very high expectations of the new president and the government, one of the more important observations made by our five member MEP delegation. Even the NGOs state that they can work more freely. There are cracks in the isolation. The momentum has to be seized.
On the first day of our visit we met the Sakharov prize laureates Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi in the Greek embassy in Tehran, as one of the definite highlights of the mission. We discussed the human rights situation in Iran at length. They were both extremely happy to receive us and we had a good conversation on the situation of political prisoners in Iran.
It is obvious that president Hassan Rouhani is under great pressure to improve the human rights situation, in accordance with his electoral promises. The conservatives, however, still rule the human rights council and the judiciary. The president has released political prisoners, but executions have increased. Executions are claimed to be 80 per cent drug related. The delegation was told that it has become evident that this is not necessarily the most effective way to deal with the drug trafficking problem and that the practice is being revised. Key concepts mentioned by influential Iranians, as possible means of approaching the contents of a human rights dialogue, are 'universalisation' and 'evolution' of the human rights discourse.
The delegation explored how a new dialogue could be commenced on a government level. The conclusion is that the EU special representative on human rights should visit Iran.
There are also signs that prove that the visit of parliament's Iran delegation itself has become a part of the current power struggle between the hardliners and the reformists. Our meeting with Sotoudeh and Panahi has been criticised in the Iranian media, some parliamentarians even demanding an investigation into how the security forces could allow it to take place. Every small detail was observed by those critical of the visit taking place. Why did I not stand up in front of ayatollah Rafsanjani, but sat down on a chair, upon the request of the Iranian protocol? Why has the delegation, supposedly, claimed that the meeting with Sotoudeh and Panahi was the most important part of the journey? The delegation only noted that it was one of the most important, the most important being of course the inter-parliamentary dialogue. These are all emotions and fears surfacing in times of prospects of impending changes.
On the other hand, the severe sanction policy still affects everyday life in Iran. People still suffer from lack of medication, vaccinations and worsening air pollution. In other words, not much has changed in terms of real life. But there is hope in the air and change is inevitable.
Tarja Cronberg is chair of parliament's Iran delegation and member of parliament's foreign affairs committee and security and defence subcommittee
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