Criticizing Iranian officials for their methods in defending against reports of Iran’s human rights violations, Iranian scholar Sadegh Zibakalam refuted claims that the criticism is directed at Islam.

Tehran University Political Science Professor Sadegh Zibakalam publicly challenged Head of the Judiciary Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani’s recent remarks stating that Western countries’ criticism of Iran’s human rights record is in opposition to Islam. “Contrary to what is routinely said, I believe the criticisms raised against us about human rights have nothing to do with Islam,” Zibakalam said in a speech at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University on Human Rights Day. He added that human rights is an area of dispute between Iran and the West and that the issue will continue to fester.

Sadegh Zibakalam asked Iranian authorities to prove their claims against Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran. “We say that Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur, is a mercenary and is associated with Zionism. Let’s assume that this individual is a mercenary, a CIA agent, or a Freemason, but we have to take note that in his 60- to 70-page report, he has listed the names and references of individuals whose human rights have been violated. When we say that sources for his report are the Hypocrites [the Iranian government’s reference to the opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization, MEK] and anti-revolutionaries, we must prove that this individual’s reports are lies and without merit,” he added.

Over the past several years, whenever the UN has passed human rights resolutions criticizing the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iranian Judiciary officials have repeatedly stated “cultural relativism” and anti-Islam rationale as the reasons and have refrained from addressing the issues cited in the resolutinos. Zibakalam’s statements are especially rare and bold given his status as a prominent thinker inside Iran.

In his December 11 statements, the Head of Iran’s Judiciary Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani said, “As I’ve said before, many of the issues raised on the pretext of human rights, including opposing the death penalty, are in fact in opposition to Islam, because qisas [retribution] is clearly stipulated in the Quran.”

Referring to numerous instances of human rights violations in Iran, Zibakalam said that none of the points Sadegh Larijani raises are related to Islam, and that “observing Iran’s Constitution and laws passed by the Iranian Parliament” would reduce human rights violations in Iran to almost none.

In recent years, human rights activists and organizations have documented thousands of cases of human rights violations in Iran, pointing out that most of these violations are even against Iran’s own laws. High-ranking judicial authorities, however, have always referred to human rights concerns as politically-motivated acts, refraining from effective dialogue with activists and organizations. Since his 2011 appointment as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed has not been allowed to travel to Iran and his reports have been repeatedly criticized.

Addressing a conference on human rights at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University on the occasion of Human Rights Day, Zibakalam spoke of three decades of Iranian government responses to human rights concerns. “The response to the criticisms of the past three decades has been that the West is using human rights as a political tool, and because we want to be independent and free, and carry out Islamic principles and laws, and we also intend to base our justice and legal processes on Islamic principles and standards, we are criticized by the West who wishes to dictate secularism and atheism to us,” said Zibakalam.

“Contrary to what is routinely said, I believe the criticisms raised against us about human rights have nothing to do with Islam,” he said. “If a student who is active in Mir Hossein Mousavi’s election campaign supports him as a candidate, or a student who attended an illegal demonstration becomes ‘starred’ and is banned from education, is that related to Islam? According to what law is a student banned from education just because he is against the current political opinions and thoughts?” he added. Zibakalam also spoke about the “arbitrary arrests” of those citizens who have been detained without being informed of their charges. “Has it not happened in the Islamic Republic of Iran that an individual was arrested without clarifying what his charges were, and then he was told his charges after weeks and sometimes months of detention?” he asked.

Referring to statements made during Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet appointments, Zibakalm said, “It is said that the Minister of Science appointed deputies for himself whom the Intelligence Ministry has not approved. Based on which law should the Intelligence Ministry approve the appointments of university chancellors, governors, deputy governors, deputy ministers, and directors, so that without the approval the individuals cannot fill their positions?”

He also addressed the elections and the Guardian Council’s vetting and disqualification of candidates, a point raised in several human rights reports and by local and international activists and organizations, which has been consistently disregarded by Iranian authorities. “According to the law, in order to determine the qualifications of candidates, the Guardian Council has to request four organizations to provide information on the individuals. If the four organizations say that the individual has no problems, can the Guardian Council still disqualify the individual based on his thoughts and political opinions? I speak to you as a disqualified individual. I still don’t know for what reason the Guardian Council disqualified me in the Sixth Parliamentary Election [2000-2004].”

Zibakalam also spoke about the events that took place inside the Kahrizak Detention Center in 2009, marking one of the most publicized cases of human rights violations in Iran, where at least four post-election protesters died as a result of torture inside a horrific police detention center. “When the Kahrizak incident happened, Mr. Saeed Mortazavi [then Tehran Prosecutor] said that these four individuals had infectious diseases and meningitis, and died as a result of high fever. But later, when things escalated, he said that he was not at work at the Prosecutor’s Office during those days, and that because he was studying for his Ph.D., he had gone on vacation to do his research at Azad University. Today, Iran’s Police Commander says that Mortazavi insisted the detainees be transferred to Kahrizak,” he said.

“I believe none of the mentioned violations of human rights are related to Islam or to our Constitution. As a Tehran University Professor, I still don’t know who attacked the Tehran University dormitories on the evening of June 15, 2009,” said Zibakalam. “Therefore, the reasons the West is criticizing us about violations of human rights are the points I raised. Of course we provide a series of different reasons for these criticisms and say that Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, is a mercenary and associated with Zionism.”

Sadegh Zibakalm also addressed the typical responses provided by the Iranian officials. “They say, ‘Why doesn’t the West have any concerns about Saudi Arabia, who violates human rights and they are only concerned about Iran?’ This question has two answers, one from a political science point of view and the other from a philosophical point of view. The political answer is, what part of the Saudi society is comparable to ours? We have been fighting since the Constitutional Revolution [1905-1907]. How related is our society to the Saudi society, and is the dissatisfaction in our society today the same as the objections about women’s driving in Saudi Arabia?” said Zibalkalam. “The philosophical response is, do violations of human rights in Saudi Arabia, and the Westerners’ failure to object to them, mean that human rights should be violated in Iran?” said Zibakalam.