LONDON, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Last week a European Parliament delegation returned from a six-day visit to Tehran, the first official visit to Iran in more than six years.
The five-member delegation was led by the chairwoman of European Parliament's friendship delegation with Iran, Tarja Cronberg from Finnish Greens and included Cornelia Ernst, German communist; Isabelle Durant, Belgian Greens; Marietje Schaake, Dutch Liberals; and Josef Weidenholzer, Austrian Social Democrats.
During their Dec. 13-18 visit at least 38 death sentences were carried out official Iranian media sources said. This while many executions in prisons are conducted in secret and news of those is rarely released.
Many MEPs including those from the Group of the European People's Party, the largest in the European Parliament, refused to go to Iran in protest of the country's gross human rights violations.
Some analysts argue that this rare visit took place in the context of the Geneva talks, which are aimed at normalizing relations between Iran and the West by convincing the ayatollahs to give up their nuclear ambitions. However, others have pointed out that for the Iranian side, the ultimate goals of the Geneva talks remain breaking sanctions, forcing the West to accept a nuclear Iran and eliminating chances for regime change by the democratic opposition.
Opposition activists suggest that since "the current U.S. administration is among the weakest in U.S. history" Iran wants to use the opportunity to enhance its hegemony over the region and would thus warmly welcome any lifting of the crippling sanctions that have delayed its nuclear weapons ambitions.
They claim that by offering lucrative oil and natural gas contracts, the regime wants to intimidate the West, particularly the European Union, to ease the sanctions. Countries such as Sweden, traditionally seen as human rights advocates, have placed themselves first in line. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt recently declared that he sees no problem in removing the sanctions as early as January. Other countries, such as Italy, have already sent foreign ministers to seize business opportunities if the sanctions are lifted.
To help the European delegation justify their visit, the Iranian Foreign Ministry took two former political prisoners, Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi, winners of the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov Prize, to the Greek Embassy in Tehran to meet with them discreetly.
Upon her return from Tehran, Cronberg made contradictory remarks in Brussels in favor of the "moderate" Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. She praised him for keeping his "promise to improve human rights" by freeing a handful of political prisoners, something observers had stressed was part of his charm offensive before going to United Nations in September.
However, she failed to explain the twofold increase in executions during Rouhani's term and instead defended him by saying that "the judiciary is not under his control."
"So Rouhani is only responsible for the good things that his judiciary does and not the bad things!" a Twitter user replied to Cronberg after the news conference.
In her interview with the Persian section of Radio Free Europe, she said: "We have to bear in mind that Iranians say that their values are different from Europeans. This is true but we have to sit down and discuss these values and accept our differences ... and we must bear in mind that in comparison with the European Union, religion plays a very important role in Iran. We're a liberal society and Iran is a highly conservative society."
Commenting on this, U.S.-based Iranian journalist and human rights activist Hassan Dai wrote on his blog: "No, you are not mistaken, these are not the remarks of Sadegh Larijani -- Head of Iran's notorious Judiciary, these are the words of Tarja Cronberg!"
The delegation chairwoman didn't condemn the 450 executions since Rouhani became president and said: "When we discussed the executions with Iranian authorities, we realized that more than 80 percent of executions were in connection with drug-related offenses. They are working on this issue. ... they do not intend to abolish the death penalty but are thinking about slowing down. I think that until here is a good sign."
While in Tehran, Cronberg told EuroNews that she was impressed that women have "their own fraction" in the Iranian Parliament which "is an evolvement in the society." No criticism was mentioned about the fact that only nine out of 290 members of the Iranian Parliament are women.
In her Brussels press briefing she said, "There is no regime change on the agenda, there is no revolution on its way but there is a step by step transformation."
She also claimed that the regime has "equal rights for women in all their laws" and added "but because women were not breadwinners, it was natural that men had higher incomes."
But, as the Iranian Penal code states, the life of a woman has half the value of a man's. Article 300 of the code states that the "Deyeh" (blood money) of a Muslim woman is half of the "Deyeh" of a man. "A woman cannot leave her home without her husband's permission, even to attend her father's funeral" (Article 105 of the Civil Code).
"It is really an insult to all women rights activists to hear an EU parliamentarian lobbying for the mullahs in this way. Such comments will only give freer hands to the government to justify the institutionalized repression against women," Mariam Amiri, rights activist in Amsterdam said.
Commenting on the visit to Iran, Kazem Mousavi, founder of Iran's Green Party, said in a radio interview from Berlin: "One can conclude that according to these parliamentarians, human rights violations or their non-improvement are a result of values enshrined in Islamic and cultural beliefs of people in Iran and at the end of the day, the regime is only implementing the people's ideals and values. So this repression and these executions are merely a cultural difference between the West and Iran and we should accept them for the time being."
He added, "Given that the Left parties in Europe no longer have the socialist bloc of the past, for these European greens and socialists the last stronghold to defend their political principles, they assume, is to support the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially since they both share a common anti-American and anti-Israeli stance.
"Unfortunately the mullahs have managed to deceive them by portraying themselves as victims of Western hard-liners. So here the murderers become the victims!"
(Mosa Zahed is the founding director of the Middle East Forum for Development, a non-governmental organization in London. He is a doctoral student at Leiden University in game theory and conflict analysis.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)