EU Foreign Policy Chief Mogherini should not forgo human rights in Iran trip

By Alejo Vidal-Quadras   |   July 28, 2015 at 1:00 AM
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The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Ms Federica Mogherini, plans to travel to Tehran on Tuesday to open a new dialogue on "bilateral issues" with Iranian officials a fortnight after the nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers. Yet her trip puts in peril Europe's democratic values.

It is an illusion to imagine that the nuclear agreement will lead to an improvement in the human rights situation in Iran. All the signs indicate that the agreement will embolden the mullahs to further abuse their citizens and to prevent an opening of the political atmosphere which could lead to a repeat of the upsurge of anti-government sentiments that took place in the 2009 uprisings.

Hours before Ms Mogherini announced her planned trip, the regime hanged 10 prisoners collectively in its Gohardasht Prison. On the same day Amnesty International announced that the Iranian authorities had executed an astonishing 694 people between January 1 and July 15, 2015, in an unprecedented spike in executions in the country.

"This is equivalent to executing more than three people per day," Amnesty International said. "Iran's staggering execution toll for the first half of this year paints a sinister picture of the machinery of the state carrying out premeditated, judicially-sanctioned killings on a mass scale."

Last December, the United Nations General Assembly slammed Iran's flagrant violations of human rights, criticizing its use of inhuman punishments, including flogging and amputations.

There are no signs that human rights situation has improved during Hassan Rouhani's presidency. On the contrary the facts paint a grim picture:

Since Rouhani took office almost two years ago there have been more than 1,800 executions in Iran, more than in any similar period in the past 25 years. Iran holds the record of the most number of executions in the world per capita and is the biggest executioner of juvenile offenders. Executions of citizens of ethnic and religious minorities have increased dramatically. A number of Christian priests are incarcerated for advocating their beliefs. Iran is the largest prison for journalists in the Middle East; dozens of journalists are today in detention. Iran is also one of the largest customers of internet filtering equipment, and it blocks around five million websites dedicated to arts, social issues and news, and it filters the contents of blogs and social media.

Misogyny is at the heart of the regime's theocratic rule. Last October, organized gangs affiliated with the regime carried out acid attacks on Iranian women for supposedly improper 'veiling'. In the same month, in defiance of international appeals, Iran executed Ms Rayhaneh Jabbari, 26, whose crime was defending herself against an intelligence agent who had attempted to rape her.

Ms Atena Farghadani, a 28-year-old artist, was sentenced to a 12 year jail sentence in May for drawing a cartoon mocking senior Iranian officials. It is hard to imagine that a young woman be jailed for such lengths simply for drawing a cartoon, but this is the reality of the theocracy ruling Iran.

In total this regime has executed more than 120,000 political prisoners, the vast majority members of the main Iranian opposition group People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, PMOI (also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq, MEK).

Next Saturday will mark the 27th anniversary of the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, primarily members and activists of the PMOI. One of the members of the three-man 'death commission' that sent the political prisoners to the gallows is Rouhani's Minister of Justice.

Ms. Mogherini's meetings with the regime's leaders will encourage them to continue torture and executions as well as their export of terror and fundamentalism in the region, and it will undermine the Iranian people's determination to achieve democratic regime change.

Though in 2012 the EU adopted an ambitious strategic framework to put human rights and democracy at the center stage of its policies, in the nine months that Ms. Mogherini has been EU foreign policy chief, despite 1,000 executions in Iran, she has refused to utter even a single verbal condemnation of the daily atrocities.

The nuclear agreement should not be an excuse for the EU to be silent in the face of the Iranian regime's appalling human rights conduct. Ms Mogherini should make the key theme of her trip to Iran a public pronouncement to the Iranian authorities to halt executions and free political prisoners. Otherwise the regime will use her visit as a propaganda tool to discourage calls for democracy among the Iranian people. It is time for Europe to choose side between a theocratic regime and an oppressed people. Europe should not be shy to stand with the freedom-loving people of Iran and support their cry for freedom, democracy and human rights.

Alejo Vidal-Quadras was Vice-President of the European Parliament from 1999-2014, he currently chairs Brussels-based NGO, International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ)

© 2015 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.

Trump the Donald and other musings

By Harlan Ullman, UPI Arnaud de Borchgrave distinguished columnist   |   July 27, 2015 at 9:46 AM
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While the squealing over the Iran nuclear agreement has dropped a few decibels in volume, foreign observers must be confused and occasionally amused over the discourse and tone of America's politics. Not even in Putin's Russia or Communist China, let alone "Clericocratic" Iran, has the rancor over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action approached within light years the acrimony of reactions in America. But another factor will eclipse this brouhaha -- the so-called Donald factor!

For those Americans who have been vacationing on Pluto and for those who have been following this soap opera saga from beyond these shores, the emergence of Donald Trump as a presidential contender must be as much a mystery as that distant planet was until a few days ago. By his many admissions, Trump has been a fabulously successful real estate mogul and entertainment entrepreneur. Based on those triumphs, Trump has thrown himself into the presidential sweepstakes with the finesse of a wrecking ball blasting one of the huge structures he has built.

Claiming to be worth $10 billion, Trump has used his experience as host of his celebrity television series, "The Apprentice" et. al., to obliterate most anything and everything in his path from Mexican rapists in America to demeaning Senator John McCain's exceptional courage as a prisoner of war because he was shot down over Hanoi and captured in 1967. Trump has insulted virtually all the other Republican challengers for the nomination, labeling one of them, Senator Lindsey Graham, "a lightweight."

A large 69-year-old man easily recognized by his extraordinary hairstyle -- rivaling North Korea's Dear Leader Kim Jong Un's -- Trump believes that attack is the best form of politics and any notoriety is to his benefit. Seen by many as a buffoon who will soon self-destruct of his own weight and lip, Trump is discounted as one of the anomalies that infect American politics from Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy of the 1950's; environmental activist Ralph Nader a generation later; to Ross Perot in the early 1990's. Unfortunately, to discount Trump is a serious mistake.

For all the pomp, circumstance and hot air, Trump could be, and the emphasis is could be, a formidable contender. By one poll last week, Trump was favored by 24 percent of potential Republican primary voters, double the favorite Jeb Bush's second place of 12 percent. The reason for Trump's popularity is understandable.

A number of Americans are furious with Washington and a government that is viewed as hopelessly in gridlock or worse. Trump promises that as an outsider he, and only he, will fix Washington. He points to his (massive) accomplishments in business to establish his bonafides. And his trademark slogan from his TV show "you're fired" will no doubt be liberally applied to Washington if elected and will come into play in the forthcoming debates to intimidate and humiliate his opposition.

This appeal to populism and disgust with Washington could prove infectious. Even if only a fraction of Americans are seduced by this siren song, many more would like to believe something can be done to clean up the mess in the nation's capital. Ross Perot, whose small stature and squeaky voice were far from charismatic or photogenic, captured 19% of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential elections. What could the oversized and blustery Donald do? No one knows yet.

If Mr. Trump were really committed to winning the Oval Office and was prepared to put his money where his ever-present mouth is, he would be a serious candidate. Mitt Romney tithed ten percent of his income to his church. Should Trump commit ten percent of his wealth to his campaign, a billion dollars can draw a great deal of attention and more importantly, votes.

That Trump has put the Republican Party in a tailspin may only be temporary good news for the Democrats. Clearly, how the GOP responds to the Donald's challenge could have profound consequences for the election, good or ill. And so far, the party and the candidates seemed reluctant or afraid to take Trump head on.

That Trump lacks the experience and judgment, let alone character, to be president is not relevant given that Americans do not always nominate or elect the most qualified candidates as the nation's chief executive. And Trump's bent for destructive and acrimonious commentary may ironically appeal to many voters who are disenfranchised from and angry and highly disgusted with government.

The looming question is whether and when Mr. Trump will trump himself. The sooner the better may be too late.
Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist as well as Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and Senior Advisor at both Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace.

© 2015 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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