The first Iranian to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Shirin Ebadi is a human rights activist, lawyer, and former judge. Listed by Forbes magazine as one of the "100 most powerful women in the world" for 2004, she is currently in exile from her native country.
On Sunday, she sat down with Kurdistan 24 to discuss the latest developments in Iran, which this, the first of a two-part article, will cover. Look for the second part, in which she will share her thoughts on the regime’s recent attack on the headquarters of two Iranian Kurdish opposition parties inside the Kurdistan Region.
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Shirin Ebadi, in an exclusive interview with Kurdistan 24, said that Tehran’s response to protesters expressing their “discontent” with the downward trend of living conditions and satisfaction with the government, only serves to worsen the situation and shows that Iran fears a “free election.”
“The rial has lost most of its value and this has caused an increase in poverty. Many goods like baby diapers and some types of medicine are hard to acquire,” Ebadi said, referring to the current economic crisis in which Iran finds itself.
Pointing to the state of affairs and the collapsing currency, she stated that “public discontent with the government” is at its highest level and warned that Tehran will not be able to continue on its current path indefinitely.
“One day, these conditions have to change.”
However, “the Iranian government, at times of public demonstrations on the streets, instead of listening to the words of the people, responds with violence; arresting them, suppressing them, and even killing a number of them.”
Ebadi believes such behavior “makes conditions worse.” Even if “people go home to avoid getting arrested or killed, this does not pacify them. In fact, after a while, protests continue elsewhere.”
“No!” she responded firmly when asked whether it was in the public interest for the regime to remain in power.
Regarding efforts to support a peaceful transition to democracy, Ebadi pointed to a project she has advocated for with her colleagues, who “called on Iran to agree to a referendum, supervised by the United Nations, for people to decide whether they want the current government before it collapses.”
“They did not accept,” she said.
During the interview, she showed her preference for such a peaceful solution and saw it as the way forward to avoid “unrest in Iran and the region.”
“We never had free elections,” Ebadi lamented, pointing to the system in which unelected officials possess significant power in government and pick who can run for various public offices.
As per the country’s system of governance, an official body of twelve men, called the Guardian Council, supervises national elections and must approve candidates. In addition to having veto power on legislative bills, their endorsement is required for the offices of the Assembly of Experts, an entity with the power to select and dismiss the Supreme Leader, the President, and the Parliament (Majlis).
The Iranian constitution mandates that six members of the Guardian Council be elected by the Supreme Leader among experts in Islamic Law (Faqihs), and the other six are chosen by the Majlis among candidates nominated by the Head of the Judiciary, who, in turn, is chosen the Supreme Leader, now Ali Khamenei.
Iran’s reformists, a political entity purportedly seeking greater freedom and democracy for the country, have stated that the aforementioned system creates a closed circle of power and consider it to be the core legal barrier for the effectiveness of their movement.
“We must not forget that… in 1979, when the Islamic revolution succeeded, almost everyone supported [it].” Now, she said, “they are afraid of one free election… they know that under five to six percent of people would back them and those are the people who benefit from its [the Islamic Regime’s] existence.”
Regarding the current tug of war between the EU, which seeks to maintain the nuclear deal signed in 2015 between world powers and Iran, and the US, which pulled out the deal in May, Ebadi admitted, as a rights activist, she wasn’t much in tune with international policy towards the regime.
Instead, she is more concerned with the current living conditions for the people of her country and the government’s actions and negligence that have contributed it.
Editing by John J. Catherine