New Zealand is ‘shutting down doors to democracy’ by focusing on diplomatic negotiation over a harder-edged response to human rights abuses in Iran, according to Iranians living here
Members of New Zealand’s Iranian community have called on the Government to designate the country’s military guard as a terrorist group, saying politicians must move on from hopes of a diplomatic resolution.
The Middle Eastern country has been rocked by months of protests after the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last September, with the violent response of Iranian authorities, including the execution of protesters, drawing international condemnation.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, set up as a branch of Iran’s military in 1979, has played a critical role in the crackdown and has been designated as a terrorist organisation by a number of countries.
The Revolutionary Guard’s activities have also extended beyond its borders, with the American and British navies this week forced to come to the aid of a merchant ship that was allegedly “harassed” by Guard vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.
At a parliamentary event hosted by the Iranian Solidarity Group last week, the Government was urged to do more to respond to human rights abuses in the country.
Dr Forough Amin, a women’s rights activist and the founder of the Iranian Women in NZ charitable trust, told the crowd that politicians needed to reconsider their focus on diplomacy and negotiation when it came to Iran.
“For the sake of keeping diplomatic doors open, we are shutting down doors to democracy and change for millions of people.”
The Iranian regime had no fear of repercussions from the international community, Amin said, as shown by it repeatedly taking foreign hostages.
Countries with a feminist foreign policy such as New Zealand should actively work to protect and promote women’s rights in other countries.
“These women are standing for themselves, and the only thing they want from you is to stop supporting the regime that they are fighting against.”
Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman, who fled Iran as a child with her family, said the Government needed to designate the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation so they could be held legally accountable for their actions.
“The aim of this regime is to terrorise the Iranians into compliance, it’s to control the population, to control our national wealth through control of our very bodies,” said Ghahraman.
“We cannot idly stand by as this malevolent entity continues to dismantle the foundations of peace, casting our world into an abyss of fear and suffering.”
– Dr Morteza Sharifi, on the Revolutionary Guard
Aida Tavassoli, one of the solidarity group’s founding members, told Newsroom the event was an opportunity for the Iranian community to meet MPs and explain why they wanted Parliament to take stronger action against the Iranian regime.
Tavassoli had come to New Zealand as an international student to flee the discrimination she faced as a woman, but those who were still living in Iran were being subjected to “gender apartheid”.
“They might say all women can get educated, but … there [is] a lot of discrimination against women getting into any high-powered jobs, or any jobs. If we get into trouble with the court system or anything, we are never gonna win, because it’s a male-oriented system.”
The Government needed to cut all ties with the Iranian regime to show the country it would have no allies or friends while it continued its current approach, she said.
“They don’t listen, they haven’t listened for the last 44 years. What’s the whole point of even trying to talk to them again?”
Also last week, Parliament’s foreign affairs committee heard from Dr Morteza Sharifi, who submitted a petition signed by over a thousand people calling on the Revolutionary Guard to be designated as a terrorist group.
“We cannot idly stand by as this malevolent entity continues to dismantle the foundations of peace, casting our world into an abyss of fear and suffering,” Sharifi said, accusing the Government of “[choosing] to embolden a rogue regime that supports terrorism”.
National, the Green Party, ACT and Te Pāti Māori have all previously supported the designation of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist entity.
A heavily redacted briefing to then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in November last year expressed uncertainty over whether the Revolutionary Guard would meet the official threshold for designation, and suggested travel bans as an alternative option that would be easier to implement.
“The Iranian state’s ongoing violent repression of widespread protest activities in Iran is of significant human rights concern,” the briefing said.
In a separate response to Sharifi’s petition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that other countries who had designated the Revolutionary Guard did not currently have diplomatic relations with Iran.
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the Government was keeping its eye on the situation in Iran and took advice on the response of like-minded countries.
“We’re just quite vigilant and we keep a watching brief on the situation in Iran … we’re very responsive to the Iranian diaspora community here and the concerns that they have,” Mahuta said.