In a video with over fifteen thousand views on Facebook, leading Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has come out in support of the Iran Deal:
I am also aware of the urgency for implementation of human rights in Iran, and as a lawyer I am suffering from the injustice in this society. However, in expressing my concerns over policies that drag nations to the possibility of an uneven, unwanted war; I would like to tell my American fellows that we as citizens of the two states, have a similar concern. As an Iranian, I criticize the extremist rhetorics of the Iranian hardliners and I ask my politicians to stop the threatening and militarized language. Likewise, I call my fellow Americans from overseas to urge their politicians and representatives in Congress to refrain from using the language of threat displaying their military power, because such displays of power in and of itself are a form of war.
In issuing this statement, the prominent human rights lawyer joins a core of Iranian human rights defenders publicly backing the deal.
With the agreement gaining momentum in the United States, critical American politicians are citing everything from terrorism to the human rights of Iranian citizens to try and discredit the Obama administration’s achievement. But, Iran’s own rights activists – some currently in prison – are urging Congress to recognize that improved Iran-U.S. relations will not only ease sanctions and reduce the threat of war, but also lead to increased respect for human rights inside Iran.
So far, the list of Iranian activists supporting the deal includes exiled Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, student activist Zia Nabavi, who is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence, British-Iranian activist Ghoncheh Ghavami, Taghi Karrubi, the son of Mehdi Karrubi, a leader of the 2009 Green movement who has been under house arrest for several years, Daryoush Mohammad Poor, an academic and pro-democracy activist, and filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who has been harassed and imprisoned by the regime for his work.
Of course, a number of Iranians, including former political prisoners and victims of torture, have spoken out against the deal. In an open letter in early August, published in the Daily Beast, some Iranian dissidents declared that “appeasing the Iranian regime will lead to a more dangerous world,” and rejected a pact that would “provide up to $150 billion windfall of cash into the bank account of our tyrants and theocrats.”
Indeed, at first glance, there seems to be an irresolvable dichotomy for human rights defenders who are supporting Iran’s most important foreign policy move in decades while also opposing the government’s domestic repression. But this dichotomy is a false one. The lessening of economic burdens will create real and meaningful improvements in the daily lives of Iranians, paving the way for better nutrition, education, and livelihoods – in a word, the deal is good for the human rights of Iran’s citizens.
Improved relations between Iran and the United States will help to mitigate trade difficulties, international payment problems, blocked deliveries at blacklisted ports, and maritime insurance restrictions. In June, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and International Sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, praised the deal for dismantling a program of harsh sanctions that have violated the rights of Iran’s people, “including its right to food, its right to health and its right to development.”
While the deal by no means guarantees an end to violations of civil and political rights, the persecution of free speech, or an end to mass executions, it does improve the odds that many Iranians will be able to provide enough food for and otherwise support their families.
As Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, wrote for the Huffington Post in late July, “for [human rights defenders], this is the only logical choice because a continuation of the nuclear stand-off would only further worsen human rights conditions in Iran. These respectable human rights defenders know that their efforts only will get harder under the threat of war or the pressure of sanctions.”
Nasrin Sotoudeh is no stranger to the need for rights reforms in Iran. Prior to her detention in 2010, she represented many human rights defenders who criticized the Iranian regime, and defended young prisoners who had been sentenced to death for crimes they committed as minors. In 2010, she was herself sentenced to eleven years in prison on charges of “spreading propaganda” and “conspiring to harm state security.” Her sentence was later reduced to six years on appeal.
During Sotoudeh’s detention, authorities pursued a campaign of intimidation and harassment against her husband and daughter. Then twelve-years-old, Sotoudeh’s daughter lived under a travel ban until late 2012, when authorities relented after Sotoudeh undertook a fifty-day-hunger strike.Without explanation, she was released along with ten other political prisoners in 2013, days before an address by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to the United Nations. Today, Sotoudeh continues to live in Iran, but is subject to a three-year ban on practicing law issued by Iran’s Bar association – a decision she has been protesting for eight months.
If American politicians are genuinely concerned about the human rights of Iran’s citizens, they would do well to listen to the experts. The majority of Iranian human rights defenders are supporting the deal. To ignore this and use their own cause against them is to whitewash the suffering of Iran’s advocates and lawyers, who have been subject to jail sentences, harassment, and retaliation for their work.
A full roundup of videos from Iranian activists, human rights defenders, (former) political prisoners, and others supporting the Iran Deal can be found here.