“We must not leave the Iranian people alone”

The international campaign in support of the democratic movement in Iran also passes through Switzerland. In photo: a demonstration in Bern, November 5, 2022. Keystone / Anthony Anex

Swiss parliamentarians have sponsored people sentenced to death as part of the protest movement in Iran. This action aims to attract attention and encourage the Swiss government to clarify its position.

This content was published on December 22, 2022 – 15:30

“We need to draw attention to these human rights violations and give these people a voice,” says Sibel Arslan, National Green Councillor. She is the “political godmother” of actor Hossein Mohammadi, sentenced to death for “corruption on earth”. Several people have recently been sentenced to death in Iran, after hasty trials, conducted without the presence of lawyers. Acts strongly criticized at the international level that NGOs and human rights activists describe as “parodies of a trial”.

In order to draw attention to the plight of these people, several Swiss parliamentarians, from all parties, have undertaken political sponsorships. Lilian Studer, national councilor and president of the Swiss Evangelical Party, is one of them. She is the godmother of Amir Hossein Rahimi, a 15-year-old boy injured during a demonstration and who spent two months in prison. Media attention allowed his release on bail, but accused of “war against God”, he still faces the death penalty. “It is now important to maintain this pressure,” said Lilian Studer.

International pressure on Iran is also reflected at the UN. The country was kicked out of the UN Commission on the Status of Women last week. In Geneva, the Human Rights Council came out with a large majority in favor of an independent international investigation into the violence committed by Tehran. So far, 460 people have been killed, including more than 60 minors, according to data from the NGO Iran Human Rights.

An international campaign

The two national councilors are among the founding members of the Free Iran parliamentary group. Over 50 politicians from across the political spectrum are now members.

Several Bundestag parliamentarians in Germany had previously accepted similar sponsorships. According to historian Kijan Espahangizi, other countries will follow. He is part of the independent platform Free Iran Switzerland, which organizes solidarity actions with the Iranian democratic movement and is in contact with the country’s diaspora in Germany. “Sponsorships are registered in Iran, people see exactly who are the people who show solidarity with them”, explains Kijan Espahangizi.

According to him, state violence and executions testify to the moral bankruptcy of the Iranian regime. Like other specialists, he is convinced that the regime is outdated and that the majority of the population wants a change of system. “To speak of dialogue now is to miss reality. It is time for a turning point in Iranian politics,” he said.

Kijan Espahangizi pleads for Switzerland to fully take over the sanctions of the European Union. He is convinced that this would not jeopardize Switzerland’s protective power mandate, through which Bern maintains the only official communication channel between Washington and Tehran. “Iran has an interest in maintaining this channel,” he said.

Should sanctions be adopted?

This mandate is at the heart of bilateral relations between Switzerland and Iran. State Secretary Livia Leu recently clarified Bern’s official position in an interview with the SonntagszeitungExternal link“We do not participate in sanctions that could compromise our open and critical dialogue with the authorities”. This international mediation activity is particularly important at this time. Berne always emphasizes that working confidentially achieves more in terms of human rights.

PLR National Councilor Doris Fiala sponsored Shayan Charani, accused, without a fair trial, of the murder of a Bassidji militiaman. It welcomes the fact that Switzerland has already taken over certain EU sanctions in relation to the production of Iranian drones delivered to Russia. “If I decided with my heart, I would take over all EU sanctions. But I think the cause is better served if we exert influence through the channels that our mandate gives us,” says Doris Fiala. In this particular role, Switzerland could use its good offices and, as in the past, avert the worst for some people.

According to Lilian Studer of the Swiss Evangelical Party, relations with Iran have always been difficult. “Our party has always drawn attention to the plight of Iranian people seeking asylum. The situation in the country has been precarious for a long time,” she said. The severity with which the demonstrations are now repressed nevertheless surprised her. She concedes that it is important to maintain dialogue and nurture trust. “But because of this excessive violence, it is time to speak clearly,” she adds.

The green Sibel Arslan evokes a false tolerance: “We lose our credibility if, after all that has happened, we maintain the status quo”. According to her, sanctions should be adopted and, at the current stage, Bern’s protective power mandate should be questioned or considered suspending it. Referring to the country’s humanitarian tradition, Sibel Arslan believes that Switzerland has obligations: “We must not leave people alone”.

Text translated from German by Dorian Burkhalter

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“We must not leave the Iranian people alone”