Javad Larijani

United Nations Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed elicited a blustering response from the Iranian delegation when he presented the findings of his most recent report on the situation of human rights in Iran to the Human Rights Council yesterday. In remarks both yesterday and today, Iranian delegation leader and Iranian Human Rights Council head Mohammad Javad Larijani attacked the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, the idea of universality of human rights, and the character of Shaheed himself.

As the 45 member states of the UN Human Rights Council prepare for their vote next week to decide whether to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Larijani, who is the brother of Iran’s Head of Judiciary, reminded the Council that “Iran unequivocally rejected the creation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur” in 2011. Larijani insisted that Iran will continue to refuse to allow Shaheed to enter the country.

In the 29th meeting of the 22nd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, Shaheed presented his findings “that the prevailing situation of human rights in Iran continues to warrant serious concern, and will require a wide range of solutions that are both respectful of cultural perspectives and mindful of the universality of fundamental human rights.”

Larijani responded by accusing the Special Rapporteur of “using and relying on biased sources” and working with “a notorious terrorist group,” alluding to the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, to compile his report. The president of the session felt obliged to remind Larijani not to personally attack the Rapporteur in his remarks.

Shaheed’s presentation emphasized the increasing repression of freedom of speech in Iran, noting that 45 journalists are currently imprisoned, many on charges of contacting foreign media, and “that some 40 lawyers have been prosecuted since 2009, and that at least 10 are currently detained, including Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh, Mr. Abdolfatah Soltani, and Mr. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah for such crimes as ‘membership in an association seeking the overthrow of the Government’ and ‘spreading propaganda against the system through interviews with foreign media.’”

Larijani accused those same lawyers of working with terrorist organizations. He especially attacked imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who sustained a 49-day hunger strike last year when Iranian authorities began harassing her family. At the Human Rights Council this morning, Larijani said, “About her hunger strike and concerning her health and well-being, it’s worth noting that maybe perhaps this undertakings are done for catching the foreign media or perhaps some prize. I’m just guessing. She ended her hunger strike after she was given the award,” referring to the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for human rights and freedom of thought, which was awarded to her in October 2012. Sotoudeh ended her hunger strike in December.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran learned in Geneva that many of Larijani’s colleagues are unhappy with his remarks to the Council and found them embarrassing. Though Larijani defended the status of freedom of speech in Iran, many diplomats found Iran’s response to Shaheed’s report to be so contradictory to the well-documented cases featured therein as to be unbelievable.

In his presentation, the Special Rapporteur mentioned five Kurdish prisoners who were reportedly tortured and charged for having contacted the office of the Special Rapporteur. Larijani dismissed these accusations, saying, “The fact is that they were in fact criminals and convicted because of their own activities: membership in PJAK, a notorious terrorist group, armed robbery, illegally compiling weapons, as well as murdering innocent people. They were sentenced according to due process, and a fair trial in the presence of their defense lawyer.” These five Kurdish prisoners were informed of their charges, “contact with foreign media and the office of the UN Special Rapporteur” and “propaganda against the regime,” by the Orumiyeh Revolutionary Court at the time of their sentencing.

In addition to his accusations of terrorist connections, Larijani spoke at length about the nature of human rights and disputed their universality. “[The Special Rapporteur] condemns Iran for not having recognized lesbian and gays,” Larijani said. “None of our human rights obligations requires us to do so. His reference to terms such as ‘marital rape’ is another case in point. It is the imposition of a special lifestyle, which is practiced by some western communities, to all other nations of the world regardless of their culture differences and valuable human experiences. Ironically, this brutal cultural invasion and suppression is pursued under the name of human rights and its universality.”

Last week, Larijani accused the Special Rapporteur of taking bribes from the US State Department, according to the Associated Press. Larijani has used these same ad hominem tactics against the Special Rapporteur since 2011, when the Human Rights Council first created his mandate.

The UN Human Rights Council is scheduled to vote on whether to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran late next week.