International TV interview with Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush
31 October 2004

Maryam Namazie: A 13-year old girl, Zhila Izadi, had initially been sentenced to death by stoning by the Islamic Republic of Iran for having sexual relations outside of marriage reportedly with her brother. As a result of pressure, the regime retreated from its sentence. She was nonetheless flogged 55 times and is still being detained. We do want to keep talking about her case and that of the execution of minors because of its prevalence in Iran. Before we begin, even the European Parliament has issued a resolution condemning the Islamic Republic of Iran for its execution of minors as well as urging the regime to stop stoning in Iran. I think that’s an important resolution. Obviously a lot of it has to do with the pressure that have been exerted by the people in Iran, as well as internationally, particularly by Mina Ahadi from the International Committee Against Stoning. So I want to start from here. Is this an important step? The fact that the European Parliament has condemned the execution of minors and the fact that they have asked that the European Union look into this matter further?

Bahram Soroush: This is a first for the European Parliament. We have been campaigning for that for a long time. We have been campaigning for an end to all diplomatic links with the Islamic regime of Iran. Iran is the only country in the world where you have stoning, amputation of limbs, public executions. Yet that government’s officials are treated as ‘respectable diplomats’, receiving a red-carpet welcome, with Jack Straw flying off to Iran, and all those warm relations. This shows the tremendous pressure that is on the Islamic regime in Iran and also on the European Union and its member states. The further the Iranian regime can be driven back on this, of course, is important in itself. The sheer barbarism of what is happening – for example in the case of this 13-year-old girl, Zhila – is such that no human being can, at least publicly, remain silent, however conservative they may be, however much backdoor dealings they may be having with the Islamic regime in Iran. As you mentioned, the International Committee Against Stoning, led by Mina Ahadi, has been instrumental in that. Last year, as a result of that pressure, the Iranian government had to put a temporary halt to stonings in Iran, although it has not been abolished from the legal system. So the campaign for its abolition is continuing. Now it has gone onto the issue of the execution of children, of child offenders as well.

Maryam Namazie: Recently we have also heard that the Islamic Republic of Iran has passed a bill in the Islamic Assembly to end the execution of minors in Iran. Again I’m sure this is the result of pressure, because we know a minor, a girl of 9, is considered an adult under Islamic law. What the bill says is that these children can’t be executed even when they reach the age of 18. Because that is something the regime has been doing – that is, waiting for some of these children to be 18 and then executing them. Is this also a result of all the pressure that has been taking place? Though I do want to remind our viewers that this doesn’t mean this is going to be made into law because the Guardian Council has to approve all bills that are passed through the Assembly and they are never approved.

Fariborz Pooya: This is true. The fact is that on the one hand you have opposition by the people to the Islamic laws, the progressive camp. On the other, you have the Islamic government and its supporters in Europe and America and in the west. The result of the laws passed is a reflection of the balance of power between them. Clearly if the popular and progressive movement in Iran, which is against the Islamic regime, is weak at any moment, the regime would advance and implement its full Sharia law and create a Taliban-style government…

Maryam Namazie: If they could, you mean.

Fariborz Pooya: If they could. And the difference between the Islamic regime in Iran and the Taliban in Afghanistan during their rule is that the popular movement in Iran is strong, the socialist movement is strong, and abroad it reflects itself in the International Committee Against Stoning, international campaigns against sexual apartheid, for children’s rights, for women’s rights and generally against the Islamic regime. The European Union occasionally comes under the pressure of this movement to actually oppose the Islamic regime. But we have to be very clear. The EU policy, at least in the last 15 years, has been one of so-called ‘critical dialogue’, which means supporting the Islamic regime and trying to bring about changes within that regime. They are hoping that in the current round of negotiations with the Iranian government, they can bring about changes within the judiciary system. But the society has tried and tested that option many times, and we know that to change anything fundamentally in Iran and within the Middle East, you need to get rid of the Islamic government and overthrow the political Islamic movement from power. Although I welcome the fact that the MEPs have condemned stoning and the execution of minors, we have to be mindful of the fact that it is the progressive movement that decides how far that goes; it’s the power of that movement that sets the scene. We need to continue with that pressure on the European Union, which is significant, not only to condemn the Islamic government but to break all political links with the Islamic government.

Maryam Namazie: Do you think this law could be approved by the Guardian Council, because it would be a step forward if there was an end to the execution of minors and an end to stoning? Is that something that is possible under the Islamic Republic of Iran?

Bahram Soroush: Anything is possible. It depends on the balance of forces. People visiting Iran say people are defying the laws; you don’t see women wearing the full chador, etc. That’s not because the laws have changed. It’s because the people are defying them. And the regime can’t do anything about it. The fact that they had to announce a moratorium on stoning two years ago was the result of those pressures. So it is possible. That’s what the people are doing. The aim, of course, is to get rid of the regime altogether, and in the course of that you’ll be pushing it back as far as possible. Since some years ago people have openly stepped onto the political field to get rid of the Islamic regime. That has changed all the political factors in Iran. Whether the Guardian Council will approve the law or not, we don’t know. But the important thing is that the campaign should continue and will continue. Inside Iran an important development, especially during the past year, has been the growth of NGOs, asserting themselves despite the draconian laws that are in place. People are forming organisations in defence of children’s rights, women’s rights; popular organisations are springing up and asserting themselves publicly and calling for change on such issues. So there was a tremendous outcry in Iran against the stoning sentence on Zhila and the execution of children and young people. As a result, the head of the Judiciary, Shahroudi, had to intervene at the last minute because the issue had become public. If you remember, 3 or 4 years ago that was not the case. So things have changed against the government as a result of the pressure in Iran and abroad, despite the fact that the European governments have warm relations with the Iranian regime.

Maryam Namazie: There are only five countries in the world that still execute minors: Iran, China, Congo, the United States and Pakistan. Amnesty International has a campaign against the execution of minors. In explaining their campaign and why minors shouldn’t be executed, they explain the characteristics of youth, such as immaturity, impulsiveness, poor judgement, susceptibility to peer pressure and a vulnerability to the domination of adults or example of elders; these are all the reasons why they say young people shouldn’t be executed. They also say it’s because children have a bigger capacity of changing, rehabilitating, and also because there is scientific evidence that shows that the brain continues to develop until the early 20s. I’d like to get both of your comments on this.

Fariborz Pooya: I welcome the fact that Amnesty is opposing this. It is very valuable and puts pressure on the issue. People may have various reasons for why minors should not be executed, but the fundamental fact is that society should oppose and put an end to the execution of minors for the simple fact that they are not party to the decision-making in society; they have not reached the age of responsibility. Society needs to protect them, the same as with all of its vulnerable sections. Society has a responsibility. You cannot annihilate and remove a section of society that is vulnerable and doesn’t have the power to change things; is not allowed by law, and in reality does not have the power, to change its environment. So they need to be protected. I think it’s criminal to execute children. And people who put that in place and defend it, they are actually the ones who need to be in the dock. There is a growing pressure internationally to put an end to child executions. We need to lead that and extend that huge movement.

Maryam Namazie: Why then are minors a special case and your comments on Amnesty’s campaign?

Bahram Soroush: As far as these reasonings are descriptions of childhood, of being a child, they are fine – such as being impulsive, being prone to group pressure, not having reached the age of responsibility… Children should not be executed simply because it is barbaric. The death penalty in itself, for adults and grown-ups, is barbaric, let alone for children. If society has defined a child as someone who is under the age of 18, then that should be the end of the matter. I know that Amnesty is facing the pressure of the courts and the opposing side, of the supporters of the death penalty, so they are trying to argue within that framework as well. But the end result, as long as it leads to the saving of lives of children, winning stays of execution, etc., that’s fine. Whatever attempt anyone does to put an end to the execution of children and abolish the death penalty is welcome. Children are a special case because they are children.

The above is an International TV ( interview dated 31 October 2004.

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