November 15, 2019

Swedish Member of Parliament Challenges Iranian Foreign Minister on Human Rights

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq January 13, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid Al-Mousily/File Photo

A Swedish member of parliament confronted Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during an Aug. 21 press conference about Iran’s human rights record, particularly when it comes to the regime’s treatment of members of the LGBTQ community.

The MP, who could not be clearly identified in video of the conference, told Zarif that members of the LGBTQ community are being “hanged in murder by the [Iranian] government” as are others who exercise “freedom of expression.” 

He then asked, “How can you speak of peace, security and freedom of protecting fundamental rights inside and out of Iran, when the government that you represent cannot give this to its own people?”

Zarif argued in response that the Iranian regime’s ability to hold onto power without the help of outside forces suggests that the regime isn’t a serial abuser of human rights, adding that 73 percent of Iranian can vote in elections.

“Homosexuality is illegal in Iran, just like how wine is illegal in Iran,” Zarif said, drawing the analogy that those who get drunk inside their home aren’t arrested but if they’re inebriated outside the house, they are. He then defended Iran’s codified Islamic law, saying the regime respects Jewish and Christian canon law.

“We have the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside Israel,” Zarif said. “They apply their own canon law. They can even buy and sell between themselves, even though it’s illegal in the country.”

Journalist Annika Rothstein tweeted in response to Zarif her 2016 Mosaic Magazine piece on Jews in Iran. Rothstein explains in the piece that she visited Jewish communities in Iran, saying that many have developed “Stockholm Syndrome” with the Iranian regime after learning to live with “low-grade fear” that their rights could be taken away at any time.

What I find most disturbing are Jews’ outbursts of loyalty toward the regime, their constant assurances about their own wellbeing, and their repeated insistence on the difference between Jewishness (tolerated) and Zionism (emphatically not),” Rothstein wrote at the time. “As at my Sabbath-eve dinner, all speak highly of their special bond with Muslim neighbors. I’m quite familiar with this type of forced alienation, complete with routine denunciations of and dissociations from the state of Israel: after all, I’m a Jew from Sweden.”

She also recalled an instance during her visit to Iran when “an elderly man” in the synagogue she attended during Shabbat approached her and said, “Please pray for our safety and our lives. If they are telling you everything is ok, they are lying.”

Former Forward Editor Larry Cohler-Esses wrote in an April 2018 Jewish Telegraphic Agency piece that after the ayatollahs assumed control of Iran in 1979, the Jewish population in the country has declined from nearly 100,000 at the time to 9,000 currently.