Published in “Nürnberger Zeitung”, October 5, 2009

Soltani could not accept award in person


NÜRNBERG – «From a distance I shake your hand,” he said loudly and clearly, and many of the 900 people in the audience at the Opera House – citizens of Nuremberg and local and international guests of honor – in that moment felt that he was really among them. It’s not just his wife, Masoumeh Dehgan, who is feeling very close to her husband at that moment. However, Dr. Abdolfattah Soltani right now is quite far away – after all, 4000 kilometers, or five hours on the airplane.

For the 55-year-old has been prevented last-minute from boarding his flight to Nuremberg at Tehran Airport – with the exit stamp already in his passport. “I was in the waiting area, when security officials confiscated my passport, thus preventing me from leaving the country,” Soltani said on the phone. His message had been recorded by the human rights office and is now, in best quality, delivered to the audience in the Opera House

A photo, projected to the huge screen, shows the attorney, elegantly dressed in shirt and tie, sitting at his office desk with the phone in his hand. A sympathetic appearance he is, on this and the other pictures that show him in his office, even though he is not present in person. It is hardly noticeable that he has lost 7 kilos during his latest detention in Tehran’s Evin prison, says his wife in a press conference later that afternoon. She continues to tell about the terrible time she, her children and relatives of the family went through when Soltani, during the protests against the apparently rigged presidential election, was first abducted and then detained in Evin.

Her blond hair is covered with a black shawl

The Islamic moral guards in Iran would have no reason to complain about the small, elegant and strong-minded woman. Again and again she adjusts her black scarf, so nothing is revealed of her blond hair. Instead, the fine threads of silver woven into the fine black cloth sparkle in the spotlights. Her stockings are opaque. Her arms are also fully covered. Like her husband, Abdolfattah Soltani, she as well makes it no secret that Islam is her religion, and she sticks to her beliefs also when abroad.

The small green ribbon of sympathy for the opposition movement, which countless Iranians – whether religious, secular or irreligious – currently wear wherever they go, is visible for just a short moment when she leaves the room and greets Iranian friends who also attend the ceremony. Only when one of them pats her shoulder, praising her for her courageous speech, a smile lights up Dehgan’s face.

As she accepts the award for her husband, the expression on her face remains grave throughout her speech, which in light of the situation is understandable. She points out that she trusts in God and hopes for his help: “I thank God that so many people have come here”, she says, “and I wish that all people in this world stand up for peace and freedom”. She all the more regrets that Iran, which claims to be a theocratic state, is a place where happen “deeds that have nothing to do with God”. For peace, freedom, and human rights, in her opinion, “every human being should be fighting, for we all are part of one body, and if one body part hurts, all other parts have to suffer”.

These words are spoken from the laureate’s heart, who sent this message to the citizens of Nuremberg: “Let us strive hand in hand to heal this common suffering.” Because the violation of basic human rights, detention of innocents and the torture of prisoners taking place in his country are “painful and regrettable for all inhabitants of Europe. America, Africa, and Australia.”

That this is true remains undoubted also by the politicians who speak at the ceremony. Be it Guenter Gloser of the Social-Democratic Party (SPD), Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or Bavaria’s Interior Minister Joachim Hermann (Christian Social Union Party/CSU): disregarding their political differences, all political parties unanimously condemn the behavior of the Iranian government.

And if Ulrich Maly (SPD), lord mayor of the city of Nuremberg, could not have his wish fulfilled to shake hands with the laureate in person, he at least achieved his second goal: “We shall make this ceremony and the subsequent dinner for peace a demonstration for freedom,” he announced.

Spontaneously, the renowned Israeli sculptor and designer of the Street of Human Rights in Nuremberg, speaks up: “I call on all artists in this world to commit to the cause of human rights.” He continues: “For me personally, this was the most moving ceremony of the Nuremberg Human Rights Award so far – precisely because the laureate was not present. We have to do everything to prevent something like this from ever happening again.”

In the end, he gives Nobel Peace Price laureate Shirin Ebadi and Massoumeh Dehgan a brief hug – and this symbol of Iranian-Israeli friendship could mark an entirely new start.
By Stephanie Rupp

Published in “Die Zeit” on October 5, 2009

Because of tensions inside the country, Tehran seeks to gain some reliefs in their foreign politics. The regime suddenly shows willingness to negotiate the nuclear issue.

It has been a good week for Western diplomats. The nuclear dispute with the Islamic Republic has moved forward: for the first time in three decades, chief negotiators of the United States and Iran in Geneva talked face to face in a core group meeting. Since then, the spirits are rising. In an almost euphoric mood, the parties reassure each other that they will open a new chapter in the history of cooperation. A vision of a new era of transparency, cooperation and mutual trust is being projected, and in recent speeches, the long-held skepticism about the regime and its nuclear plans is merely mentioned in side remarks.

Almost forgotten seems the fact that Iran has only recently given up its latest, so far unprecedented nuclear deception maneuver, and reported the second uranium enrichment site to the IAEO in Vienna for the plain reason that the revelation of the site was in store anway. Only a week ago, Iran with ostentation has been testing medium range missiles. Meanwhile, the suppression of the opposition, the show trials, and the torture of political opponents in the prisons continue unabatedly.

In the streets, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by the help of intelligence agents and the Revolutionary Guards have meanwhile re-established quiet and order. However, this has not restored the legitimacy of the regime in the eyes of the political class, nor has people’s indignation about the electoral fraud in the presidential elections of June 12 calmed down.

Paralysis has taken over in domestic politics, the leadership is marking time. The majority of the population is kept in check by force, the pro-government camp is tuned in line by alternating speeches of devotion and threat. No wonder then, that in this situation Ahmadinejad is in need of some relief on his foreign policy agenda. For the first time he has signaled his willingness to compromise about the main conflict, the nuclear issue – whether generally or just temporarily, so far nobody knows.

By taking a nuclear break, though, Tehran would not unhand any substantial ground. Technological progress can not be simply turned back or cancelled by diplomacy. For four decades, Iran has been paving the way towards the threshold of being a nuclear power. One reactor is ready, the uranium centrifuges are at work, scientists are qualified and trained. Important experiments have been documented, apparently to the extent of how to design nuclear missile warheads. If we believe the evaluation of the ever-cautious IAEA, Tehran now even has the know-how to construct a primitive nuclear bomb with enriched uranium.

At this point, Ahmadinejad presents himself as the toughest defender of Iran’s nuclear rights and, at the same time, as the only effective supplier of political concessions. Anyone who wants concessions from Iran, thus his message, would have to recognize him, the controversial figure, and rehabilitate his reputation. The international community, though, is now facing a new dilemma in addition to the previous one: When they engage in negotiations with Ahmadinejad, they at the same time declare him the winner of Iran’s domestic struggle for power.

Published in “Nürnberger Zeitung”, October 5 2009

Nuremberg International Human Rights Award 2009
We do not know how Abdolfattah Soltani felt in the hour when his wife accepted the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award on his behalf at the Nuremberg Opera House. However, we can very well imagine how the feeling of powerlessness must be gnawing at a man who has fought hard, who has been in prison, and who is now forced to stand by and watch how the Guardians of the Revolution and their henchmen are still calling the shots in his native country.

Against this background, one cannot help but wonder what the rulers of Iran have achieved by prohibiting this man from leaving the country? Is this supposed to stabilise a shaky system, which has most obviously engaged in electoral fraud or has at least allowed it to happen? Experience teaches us that no regime lasts forever. Germany will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the East German communist regime in November. The Berlin Wall came down after the GDR had run itself into the ground in economic, moral and spiritual as well as in political terms.

Similar signs of exhaustion are now apparently being displayed by the political leadership in Tehran and by sections of Iran’s high clergy. Those who have seen the young and bright faces at this summer’s demonstrations have good reason to hope, particularly since sources of information can no longer be blocked as easily as in former times.

In yesterday’s message to the assembled company at Nuremberg, Abdolfattah Soltani, too, unequivocally expressed the hope that violence and tyranny will come to an end.

And this hope is by no means unfounded: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed 41 [sic!] years ago set a milestone. Ever since then, it has become a generally accepted tenet that no human being may be humiliated, oppressed or degraded. At any rate, those in power are now judged by this standard. They even have to expect to be tried if they are in breach of it.

This has meanwhile turned into the power of the weak – the fact that human rights have now become the benchmark of a global civilisation. Even if it may still be a while before Abdolfattah Soltani is indeed able to travel to Nuremberg himself.

Comment by Raimund Kirch
Translated from German by Anusche Noring