The French government made amusing headlines this week when it pledged not to hold state dinners with Iran over the issue of wine. The Iranian government had made a menu request for any meals that French President François Hollande would take with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the latter’s official visit to Iran later this month. The French government was asked to ensure that any meals the two took together featured only halal meats, and no alcohol. The French government preferred to take no meals together at all.
It was a minor victory over a small, symbolic attempt by Iran to force the West to bow to Islamic norms. The trip is likely to produce more Iranian victories than Western ones, however. With the recent signing of the JCPOA, European governments and investors alike are rushing to win contracts to profit from the opening of Iran. The French government is still planning to meet with the Iranians in a non-dining context, and the Italian government has invited the Iranians to visit as well. Even the Pope has extended an invitation to President Rouhani for a personal meeting.
The Pope might rethink the warmth of his invitation if he were aware of the biographies of those Rouhani has asked to accompany him on his visit. Hamid Abutalebi, now a high government official in Iran, was once one of the regime’s assassins who arranged the murder of an Iranian dissident who had fled to Europe. He was also a leader among the Iranians who took American hostages at our embassy in 1979, a date now celebrated in Iran as a national holiday. Mullah Hessameddin Ashna is a former counterintelligence officer who was active in suppressing political dissidents. Mohammadi Saeidi, now director general of Iranian shipping lines, worked as a torturer in the regime’s prisons. Other members of the entourage are members also of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, a terror-supporting organization currently engaged in the brutalities in Syria.
Iranians who have fled to France because of the oppression of its government are working to draw attention to these matters. The National Council of Resistance – Iran (NCRI), a government in exile that operates out of Paris, has arranged a protest to coincide with the state visit as part of a week-long campaign against Rouhani. The protest will feature French government officials, but will be led by Iranian nationals who want to draw attention to the large scale political executions going on under the Rouhani regime. They are also concerned about the attack on Camp Liberty in Iraq by Iranian-backed militias in recent days, where another refugee group of Iranian dissidents is housed. 23 members of that group were killed in the rocket attack this week.
Likewise in Italy, NCRI has managed to get the Italian parliament to hold hearings into recent Iranian government human rights abuses. These led to a statement issued by the Italian Senate, which reads in part:
Human rights violations in Iran have continued unabated for more than three decades. With more than 2000 executions carried out during Hassan Rouhani’s tenure, Iran is the world’s number one executioner per capita, and it is the largest executioner of children….
Executions of ethnic and religious minorities have regrettably increased. A number of Christian priests have been jailed for defending their faith. Violations of the rights of minorities, women’s rights and civil rights and anti-democratic foundations are enshrined in the country’s constitution and laws.
In the summer of 1988, following a religious fatwa by Khomeini, 30,000 political prisoners… were massacred for refusing to reject their political beliefs… The perpetrators of this massacre still hold key positions. Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi and Ebrahim Reissi, two members of the death commission set up by Khomeini to carry out the massacre, are now Rouhani’s Justice Minister and the country’s Prosecutor-General….
We condemn these executions and call on the government of Italy to make any negotiations or ties with Iran’s regime contingent upon a halt to executions and respect for human rights.
No such recommendation has yet to come forth from the Vatican, which in fairness has a longstanding mandate to dine with sinners and tax collectors. Perhaps the Pope will use the occasion of the meeting to forward other Catholic founding views on human dignity.