I share the concerns about Iran's appalling human rights record and know that this has been a long-standing and serious concern for HM Government (HMG), along with the regime's continued refusal to allow the UN Special Rapporteur access to the country. Respect for human rights underpins the UK's foreign policy, which is why Iran remains one of 31 human rights priority countries for the UK.
Iran's continued and prolific use of the death penalty, weak rule of law, high rates of child forced marriage, restrictions on freedoms of expression and of religion or belief, as well as restrictions on the right of women to fully participate in society, remains deeply worrying. This was reiterated at the 52nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council in February 2023, during which the UK co-sponsored a Joint Statement demanding that Iran improve its human rights situation.
I am assured that the UK will continue to take action with the international community to press Iran to improve its dire record on human rights. The UK Foreign Secretary regularly speaks with their opposite number in Iran on a wide range of issues, including nuclear non-compliance, regional stability and security, the release of UK dual-nationals and indeed on Iranian human rights violations.
The UK is firmly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country, as a matter of principle, and makes this clear to the Iranian regime on a regular basis.
The UK has over 200 sanctions designations in place against Iran in relation to human rights, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. HMG also used the dedicated Iran Human Rights sanctions regime on 10 October to designate the so-called 'Morality Police', two of its leaders and five others for serious human rights violations. On 14 January, HMG also sanctioned Iran's Prosecutor General, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, who is one of the most powerful figures in Iran's judicial system, as well as Deputy Prosecutor General Ahmad Fazelian on 23 January, who is responsible for a judicial system characterised by unfair trials and egregious punishments, including use of the death penalty for political purposes.
This brings the total to over 100 individuals and two entities sanctioned under that regime, sending a clear message to the Iranian authorities that the UK will hold them to account for the shocking violence inflicted on their own people. The sanctions list is consistently reviewed and updated in response to the Iranian regime's actions.
The death of Mahsa Amini following her arrest for alleged dress code violations is shocking. My thoughts are with her friends and family. I can assure you, in no uncertain terms, that the UK stands with the people of Iran who are bravely calling for an end to the sustained repression of their rights by the Iranian regime. The use of violence in response to the expression of fundamental rights, by women or any other members of Iranian society, is wholly unjustifiable. Please see letter titled 'Iran: Protests' for further lines.
I join my ministerial colleagues in calling on Iran to respect the right to peaceful assembly and release unfairly detained protesters. I also welcome that the UK has been robust in joining the international community’s response to holding Iran accountable for its human rights violations. Please see letter titled 'Iran: Protests' for further lines.
I share the concern for Morad Tahbaz, who has been returned to Evin prison by the Iranian authorities, having previously been released on furlough. By continuing his horrendous ordeal with these cruel tactics, Iran once again sends a clear message to the international community that it does not deliver on its commitments.
I join Ministers in calling on Iran to release Mr Tahbaz with immediate effect. Rest assured, HMG will continue to work closely with our US partners to secure his permanent release and departure from the country, and will continue to urge the Government of Iran to end its practice of unfairly detaining British and other foreign nationals. It remains - and always has been - within Iran’s gift to release any unfairly detained British nationals.
The death of British-Iranian dual national, Alireza Akbari, following his conviction of alleged espionage and corruption as an MI6 agent, is shocking. My thoughts are with his friends and family. This execution was a callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime. This politically motivated act, which underlines this regime's complete disregard for human life, will not stand unchallenged.
In response, HMG sanctioned Iran's Prosecutor General, Mohammad Jafar Motazeri, who is at the heart of Iran's use of the death penalty. This includes an asset freeze and UK travel ban. Additionally, HMG have summoned the Charge d'Affaires and temporarily recalled the UK Ambassador for consultation. Further action is currently under review.
I too am appalled by the Iranian regime's continuing threats to the lives of UK-based journalists. In response, on 20 February 2023, the Foreign Secretary instructed FCDO officials to summon Iran's most senior diplomat, to make clear this will not be tolerated. Be assured that HMG will always stand up to countries who threaten our fundamental values of freedom of expression and the media.
I too am extremely concerned to hear reports about the recent poisoning of schoolgirls in Iran. All women and girls have a right to access quality education - that this right is being threatened is truly abominable. To this end, Iran's Parliament held a meeting to discuss the suspected attacks with their Health Minister and the Prosecutor General, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, ordered a judicial investigation into the incidents.
The UK is a fervent champion of the rights of women and girls, especially their right to education, which is placed at the heart of its foreign and development policy. I am assured that HMG will hold Iran to account in ensuring women and girls return to schools as soon as safely possible - I will be sure to follow developments closely.
I appreciate the request for the Foreign Secretary to walk out during the Foreign Minister of Iran's opening address to the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in February 2023. There are such instances, as with Iran currently, where the UK maintains diplomatic channels of communication to ensure that the UK can voice the deep concerns of the international community and hold such states to account for its appalling behaviour, in the hope that this international pressure will lead to a change in state behaviour.
The 52nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council provided an opportunity for the UK to do this, with Costa Rica delivering a joint statement, of which was co-sponsored by the UK and 53 other member states, which expressed the deep concern caused by Iran's use of the death penalty; including the nature of the offences of which the death penalty was applied to, the lack of transparency and speed at which such trials are conducted, and the credible reports that defendants did not have proper access to lawyers of their choosing and were subject to torture or other inhumane treatment.
Regardless, let me assure you that the UK is absolute, as it always has been, that the death penalty must not be instrumentalised by any State to punish individuals participating in protests.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the event on 7 March 2023 due to prior Parliamentary commitments. However, please be assured that I do recognise the importance of this issue.