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Zarif's Lies Are No Surprise

May 3, 2015
Reza HaghighatNejad
5 min read
Zarif's Lies Are No Surprise
Zarif's Lies Are No Surprise

When Mohammad Javad Zarif told journalist and talk show host Charlie Rose that Iran did not jail journalists, he triggered a storm of angry reactions from civil rights activists, journalists and political activists.

But the lies are not out of character for the foreign minister — or for the regime. 

“We don’t jail people for their opinions,” he told Rose during an interview, echoing statements President Hassan Rouhani made during an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in September 2014.  “I don’t think anybody in Iran has been arrested for journalism or media activities,” Rouhani said when asked about Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post correspondent who has been behind bars since July 2014. Shortly after, 135 journalists wrote an open letter to Rouhani and asked him to stop lying. Earlier that year, on March 19, 2014, during a visit to the Austrian parliament, Zarif claimed that there were “no political executions in Iran.”

Prior to the Charlie Rose interview, Zarif told an audience at New York University that the charges against Jason Rezaian were very serious and that “a low-level intelligence agent had tried to use him.” Despite considerable divides among Iran’s political elite, the comments suggest unity on Rezaian’s case. According to both Rouhani’s administration and hardliner media — with close ties to the Revolutionary Guards — Rezaian is a spy.

Government statements on the state of human rights in Iran have always triggered public outrage, but the response to Zarif’s latest comments has been enormous. 

Iranians took to social media, sending Zarif lists of jailed journalists via Facebook and Twitter. And well known Iranian journalists, including Bahman Ahmadi Amouee, outlined the details of their imprisonment on Facebook. 


Zarif’s Defense 

In an effort to placate the public and command some control over the swell of criticism, Zarif offered a clarification on his Facebook page. Describing his comments in New York as “specific, accurate and necessary,” Zarif reminded the public that he was referring only to the case of Rezaian. Unfortunately, he wrote, the case “has turned into an excuse” for members of the US Senate to to take a stand against the nuclear agreement.

Zarif appealed to Iranians to not provide ammunition for the “foreign warmongers” who use every excuse available —  “from me not having served on the warfront to the seizure of a delinquent ship and the arrest of one or more individuals — to prolong  tensions and the ongoing crisis. “But,” he said, “I never intended my words to offend anybody in the country, whatever their background or viewpoint.”

Zarif’s attempt to ingratiate himself with his critics does not appear to have been successful. A string of online criticism followed these latest comments.

Human rights advocates cite numerous reports on the arrests of journalists and political and religious activists published by international human rights organizations and media. Many activists have dismissed Zarif’s statements as outright lies, and say they reiterate the lies of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In particular, activists highlight a report by Reporters Without Borders, which cites Iran as among the world’s top five jailers of journalists and information providers. A Freedom House report on press freedom in 2015 ranks Iran 191 among 199 countries.

Critics have appealed to Zarif to stop lying. If the foreign minister is forced to lie to evade domestic pressures, the wrath of the judiciary or the anger of the Iranian parliament, it would be better for him to stay silent, they say — or else refuse to accept responsibility and acknowledge that he and the Rouhani administration have no control over whether journalists are jailed or not. 

Yet those who support Zarif and the Rouhani government argue that the public must acknowledge the fragility of Iran’s domestic politics. Hardliners are just as likely to take issue with Zarif, and they can use his words against him, which could ultimately lead to pressure from the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

For them, Zarif’s tactics are about denying his opponents room for maneuver. He is creating an environment where he can sell the nuclear agreement domestically without adding further complexities.


Zarif and the Human Rights Excuse

Zarif insists his response has been “specific, accurate and necessary,” so he accepts responsibility for what he says — and the actions of the regime. When it comes to Jason Rezaian at least, he shares the views of the chief of the judiciary, and hardliner media and institutions. In the past, he has made it clear just where he stands when it comes to human rights.

In July 2014, during a session of Iran’s Human Rights council, Zarif sharply criticized the West for its human rights approach. Then, too,  he accused Western countries of trying to harm Iran with a series of human rights “excuses”. He dismissed these excuses as futile attempts to destabilize the Islamic Republic’s power. 

And, when in March 2014, after Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, met with human rights activists in Tehran — including Narges Mohammadi and Gohar Eshghi, the mother of the Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti, who died in custody — Zarif also showed allegiance with hardliners, supporting their vitriolic outcries by criticizing Ashton and human rights activists. 

So, as much as Zarif’s comments infuriate human rights activists, no one should be surprised them, or by the Islamic Republic’s persecution of dissident voices. When asked about Jason Rezaian, Zarif  answered the way a hardliner would: “People who commit crimes, and who violate the laws of the country, cannot hide behind being a journalist or being a political activist. People have to observe the law.” 

Read More:

Masih Alinejad, Siamak Ghaderi and other journalists respond to Zarif in IranWire's Dear Charlie blogs



Charlie Rose Should Speak out Against Zarif’s Lies

May 2, 2015
Guest Blogger
4 min read
Charlie Rose Should Speak out Against Zarif’s Lies