Exiting the European Union (Sanctions)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:56 pm on 9th April 2019.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 2:56 pm, 9th April 2019

I draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, including attendance at the annual Iran Freedom rally in Paris. I speak in support of the statutory instrument to carry over the Iran sanctions regime. I urge hon. Members to support it to enable those sanctions to remain in place.

Sadly, abuse of human rights has been prevalent in Iran for many years. I was deeply saddened to learn that one of my constituents lost his wife in the mass killings that took place in 1988. Iran still has one of the worst human rights records in the world. As we have heard, it executes more people than almost any other country and it is estimated that as many as 273 people were executed in 2018. Despite vocal international condemnation, Iran continues to execute children.

Press freedom is heavily constrained in Iran and many journalists and bloggers have been jailed. Reporters without Borders described the country as

“the Middle East’s biggest prison for journalists.”

Gay men face the death penalty and there was widespread revulsion in the international community when a gay teenager, Hassan Afshar, was executed in August 2016.

Women routinely face sanctions if they fail to observe Iran’s compulsory dress code. Married women cannot travel abroad without their husband’s permission, their rights in relation to divorce are heavily limited, and they can be sentenced to death by stoning.

Religious minorities such as Christians, Baha’is, Jews and Sunni Muslims are subject to discrimination and significant constraints on their ability to practise their faith. For example, many members of the Baha’i faith have been subject to unwarranted arrest and imprisonment.

President Rouhani was hailed as a moderate when he was elected, but I am afraid that the human rights situation has worsened under his leadership. At least 30 people were killed and more than 4,900 arrested in protests between December 2017 and January 2018. Those demonstrations illustrate the discontent many feel about the regime and the frustrations about the severe economic hardship that many are suffering. I note the work of the National Council for Resistance of Iran in making the case for democracy, freedom and reform.

It is not just at home that Iran’s theocratic regime does great harm. Its malign involvement in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Gaza is a cause for grave concern. The United States Vice-President, Mike Pence, described Iran as

“the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world”.

It has engaged in a massive arms build-up in Syria and Lebanon, where it is stockpiling thousands of missiles. Hezbollah’s arsenal of short and medium-range rockets supplied by Iran is now estimated at 150,000, and there are believed to be more than 10,000 Iran-linked militia fighters in Syria. In Gaza, the terror group Hamas has boasted about the support that it receives from Iran. The regime continues to help al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Iran is believed to be responsible for multiple cyber-attacks on UK institutions, including what was described as a brute force attack on this Parliament.

I hope that the House will note the decision by the US Administration a few days ago to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation. A Government spokesman in Washington explained that the step had been taken because the IRGC

“actively participates in, finances and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft.”