August 23, 2017

Voice of America Interview with NCPDA Executive Director, Mr. Nasser Rashidi

This interview was originally conducted in Persian. It has been translated to English by NCPDA volunteers

Guest: Mr. Nasser Rashidi, Executive Director, National Coalition of Pro-Democracy Advocates

Anchor: Good evening to our listeners. This is Parichehr Farzam, our returning guest for the Q&A session is Mr. Nasser Rashidi, NCPDA’s Director of Operations. I am sure you are all familiar with Mr. Rashidi’s active role in defense of human rights in Iran and his role as a Director of Operations for the National Coalition of Pro-Democracy Advocates. While his expertise is on the issue of human rights in Iran, we would like to discuss three different topics: the aftermath of the earthquake in Bam, the upcoming elections in Iran and the weapons of mass destruction. These three topics may appear not seem related but allow us to say hello to Mr. Rashidi…

Nasser Rashidi: Greetings to you and your listeners…

Anchor: Thank you, as you know the three topics may not seem related on the surface but they have been the point of discussions for the past month. On one hand the issue of Iran’s WMD is very important to the international community and is very much linked to the other two issues. Ultimately, these all fall in the context of the regime in Tehran. Especially when we see Mr. Rohani’s trip to France who is leading the policy on behalf of the European Union; talks on WMD, human rights and upcoming election is being pressed upon Iran by Europe. On the issue of election Europe is pressing for free elections, meaning free for both the voters and the candidates. So, in a way you can see these issues are connected, I am interested to hear what your thoughts are on the relation between Iran’s human rights, election and WMD program.

Rashidi: Yes, as you said these issues have been in the news, including the aftermath of the Bam earthquake. We spoke on Iran’s mismanagement and corruption with regard to the outpour of international humanitarian aid in your last program….so allows me to discuss the issue of elections this time. Indeed the election, human rights and Iran’s WMD program are part of a same pillar and you can read that through the reaction of Islamic Republic’s regime. Each of these topics deserve hours of discussion, but no matter which angel we look at we come back to one question and that is what has this regime done for the people of Iran? Whether it is the issue of aid to the earthquake victims or the elections, the regime has done nothing for the people. In fact, I think the word election in Iran’s case is completely meaningless, because the people’s will is ignored. So, in all the three areas what is in common is regime’s total disregard for the Iranian people.

Anchor: A few days ago, Dr. Akbari who is the President of NCPDA, had an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle. He asserted that 42 years ago Bushehr had a similar earthquake as Bam. In fact, Bushehr lies on the same fault line as Bam which mean there is a great chance that another earthquake will hit Bushehr. As you know Bushehr is one of the nuclear sites in Iran and its WMD production has been a concern for the international community, what are you thoughts on that?

Rashidi: Dr. Akbari has done an extensive research on this topic…which brings us to the important issue of regime’s pursuit of the WMD program since day one. Over the past 6.5 years of Khatami’s so-called reformist presidency, the efforts to expand Iran’s WMD capability have increased significantly. An important point articulated in this op-ed was the serious danger of an earthquake eruption in Bushehr and how it could lead to a nuclear catastrophe similar to Chernobyl during the days of Soviet Union… despite regime’s assurance to Germany, the safety and immunity of Bushehr nuclear facility in a case of an earthquake has been a controversial issue and has not been confirmed by anyone.

Anchor: You spoke of Mr. Khatami, can you talk to us about Mr. Rohani…Mr. Rashidi, as some one who is active on the issue of human rights and democracy in Iran, what do you think about Mr. Rohani’s role. He is Kahemini’s representative in Iran’s Supreme National Security which Khatami presides over…so, what do you think about the way hardliners and reformers have intertwined in Tehran’s regime?

Rashidi: Indeed. The way France treated Rohani is an indication of their long term policy with regard to the reformist faction headed by Khatami…in a way France put an end to their relation with the reform faction by giving a royal treatment to Rohani. They came to this realization after 6.5 years of devastation for people and stoning of women. In my opinion the public discourse over the election also points to this issue, end of reformers, and also that there is no difference between this faction and that faction when it comes to what is being done for the people of Iran…if we look at regime’s past elections, we see that those who enter the parliament have never done anything for the people, yet they are currently on strike for their own rights. I can easily say that no one, not even one, in Iran’s parliament has done anything to help the people. For the record, none of the parliament members went on strike when 4000 students were arrested last summer, did any of them speak in support of the rights of those in prison, or the closure of the newspapers? These are the real issues for the people….they never stand for the defense of people’s rights. After the revolution, we have witnessed three periods: pre-Rafsanjani, Rafsanjani and the current period of Khatami. All three phases have had worsening of human rights situation, rise in terrorism and increased efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. So instead of improvement we have seen worsening of Iran’s behavior in these areas which leads us to believe that regardless of the factional issues, this regime is build upon the system of supreme jurisprudence….

Anchor: Mr. Rashidi, you mentioned that we have seen three periods so far. Are there any differences between these periods on the issue of human rights?

Rashidi: As far as the first period is concerned, no one can dispute that it was the darkest days of Iran’s history of human rights violations. Rafsanjani’s days were no better either. As for the current period, Khatami’s era, there was a lot of hope for improvement of human rights but it has been nothing but a lie. In the first 6 months of 2003, there were 10 cases of stoning announced by the regime. Since the beginning of the year, there have been 11 cases of announced executions. So, where is the moderation or the reforms…so when we talk of election, we have to pay attention to its results.

Anchor: You talked about the strikes in parliament that many members are on strike for defending their own right, while your point is they should be defending people’s rights as the elected representative. The Guardian Council just rejected the recent bill passed in the parliament. There are talks about getting Expediency Council involved…do you think parliament should work with expediency council and how does that related to human rights?

Rashidi: Yes, the members of parliament are on strike…the question is why don’t these members of parliament stand by the people on the specific issue of human rights? Why can’t they work with people on their most basic rights?

Anchor: Mr. Rashidi we have a call from Pakistan.. go a head.

Caller: I wanted to ask the upcoming elections in Iran, is it in the interest of the people or is it a formality?

Rashidi: In my opinion any election in the context of the Islamic Republic is not genuine because the ruling power does not believe in it and has never conducted a legal election. If the elections were real, the true representatives of the Iranian people would have made their way to the parliament…so, I think elections in Iran are a game between factions not a true election.

Anchor: Mr. Rashidi we have another call from Tehran.. go a head.

Caller: Greetings to you and your respectful guest, I wanted to say that the era of pining hope on the reform mirage is over. The people of Iran have lessons learned from this talk of reforms. I think instead of analyzing the so-called reforms and reformers, we should look for practical terms and measure to organize and mobilize people. We can no longer wait. We can not waste any more time.

Anchor: Mr. Rashidi we have another caller from Tehran…let us take that question before you address this one…go a head.

Caller: Mr. Rashidi’s talks as if he is in Iran. I beg to differ. The government in Iran has two sides. One side is Mr. Khatami’s government which I think have done a lot of things for the people. There were many who stopped Mr. Khatami’s progress. The strike of parliament member is for the Iranian people. The other side is those un-elected faction who make it very difficult for progress that Mr. Khatami is working for…you can not blame Khatami for the mistakes of the un-elected faction. Since Khatami has come to power there has been more political freedom, more freedom of press and if there was a suppression of the students it was not Khatami’s government. It was the critics of Khatami…we should not disregard the work Khatami has done…

Anchor: Mr. Rashidi we have two questions, one saying the mirage of reform is over and the other caller saying Khatami’s government is not to blame? But we still have another caller from Tehran…please allow us to take one more call..

Caller: My greetings to you and your mesmerizing guest whose talk is from our hearts. I would like to say that the Iranian regime only allows those who are committed to supreme leader, whether they are elected to the parliament or presidency. They have to have loyalty and full commitment to Khomeini. As you know Khatami is also committed to Khamenie who is a criminal. Therefore, when you are dealing with such a system how can we expect any reform to come out of it? The bottom line is the supreme leader should be wiped from Iran’s history. The fact that we have Guardian Councils in Iran who consider people as naive and decide on the candidates before election is appalling… Basically, the Islamic Republic of Iran considers the people’s choice as foolish or naïve and requires filtration by Guardian Council which in turn makes this is an illegitimate system. Therefore, it does not matter if it is Khamenie, Khatami, Rafsanjani or someone else. They constantly talk about reforms and how tied their hands are…I don’t understand they are in power, so if you want to reform than do it already! What is stopping you? You claim that you had 20 million votes, than call upon them for supporting you in these
reforms. The bottom line is there is no difference between these factions. They are part of the same system and never cared for the people….

Anchor: Thank you…please let me allow Mr. Rashidi to address these questions…thank you.

Rashidi: Let me start with the question about the work Khatami has done so far. You know, the issue is not if Khatami has done something or not. The question is what he has done for the most basic needs of the people. In my opinion, the issue of human rights is one of the most fundamental key to measure his response to people. I hope I be able to discuss the details of Khatami’s human rights record in the future programs…I just want to remind the caller if you look at Khatami’s record or his faction for that matter, there has been nothing but talks. The Economist magazine had an article last week saying: “In 2001 Khatami threaten to withdraw his candidacy for the 2nd term, which was an empty threat. Later he along with his VP’s threaten to resign over the rejection of two bills, the bills were rejected by the Guardian Council but Khatami and his VP’s never resigned…Again, last week on the issue of elimination of some of the parliament candidates, he said “either we all stay or we all leave”…well he has not gone anywhere yet.” ..with all due respect to the caller, I have to say Khatami has not even dared to utter the word “human rights”. He has never, even once, condemned the act of stoning in Iran.

Anchor: Mr. Rashidi we have another caller from Mashad…let us take that question please…

Caller: Greetings….I can tell you what Khatami has done in the past 6.5 years. In my opinion, he has not done anything for the people, but he has done a lot for this regime. He has kept this regime in power for 6.5 more years. The oppression and crimes has not decreased but increased under Khatami’s government. Poverty is not better but worse. That is all I want to say…thank you.

Rashidi: Yes…to address the questions in order. Let me go back to the question on what shall be done. In fact, this past Saturday I was invited to attend a very large gathering of Iranians in solidarity with the victims of the earthquake and in support of referendum for regime change in Iran. The event took place in Washington DC and approximately 5000 people attended the event. There were close to 30 speakers with various backgrounds such as legal experts, political personalities from US, Canada and Europe. Among the speakers of the event were Mr. Richar Perel, former Pentagon advisor and Sr. Advisor of American Enterprise; Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the leader of Iran’s main opposition group, and Lord Griffith, member of British House of Commons and ruling Labor Party. All three speakers emphasized on the need for an internationally monitored referendum for regime change in Iran.

Anchor: So, in a sense you are answering the caller who asked what shall be done.

Rashidi: Yes, exactly. This is the only peaceful solution for the regime change in Iran. I think people should totally boycott the upcoming election…In my opinion the Iranian regime is facing three different faith with the upcoming election. One possibility would be if Khamenie retracts from Council of Guardian’s action to eliminate the reformer candidates. This will lead in weakening of the hardliners because the Council of Guardian is appointed by Khamenie and act by his directions. The other possibility is for Khamenie to stand his ground and behind the Council of Guardian’s action to eliminate the reformers. This is a slap in the face for Europe, because to this point they have invested so much in Khatami and his talk of reforms. With this action, Europe will have to re-strategize because they have dealt with Khatami to this point and now what! The other possibility is to maintain meet in the middle of the road, meaning some will be eliminated and some will be confirmed to run for elections. This also leads to the weakening and potentially a split among the reformers because those who were eliminated will be a thorn on the side of Khatami. He will have to explain why some were preferred over others in his faction….

Anchor: Mr. Rashidi we have another caller from Iran…let us take that question please…

Caller: Yes, I wanted to say that I was one of the staunch supporters of the revolution. In fact I served in Iran-Iraq war for years and sacrificed so much for this revolution….

Anchor: Since you say you were a supporter of the revolution, what is your opinion about the elections in Iran?

Caller: What election? It’s all a lie. It’s all talks…As I said I worked with this system, I supported them, but they don’t do anything for you in return. When the war was over I came back to nothing. Even to the point that I could not continue my college education. Now I am dealing with the economic needs of family, literally trying to make sure I can feed my family on daily basis. Even the so-called parliamentarian members lie and lead you to no where. I personally had a problem where I wrote to this member of parliament, I pursued it for 3 months, at the end he called me and said “ I can not do anything for you”. All they do in manipulation and they get your hopes high but they deliver nothing even for those who defended them for years…that’s all I wanted to say, Thank you.

Anchor: Mr. Rashidi we have 20 seconds left in the show…your last comments..

Rashidi: The respect for human rights is only possible in a society that allows free election and believes in international standards of human rights. Pinning hope on human rights under Khatami and Khamenie is nothing but a mirage….As the report in German Radio indicated ..”If the push of Guardian Council goes any further than the current target, the hardliners may end up paying a heavy price…and that is what would Iranians do in reaction to oppression and they are willing to pay the price with their own lives…something that they proved with overthrowing the Shah.”