Foreign AffairsSpeeches

Wayne David – 2024 Speech on Freedom and Democracy in Iran

The speech made by Wayne David, the Labour MP for Caerphilly, in the House of Commons on 1 February 2024.

I commend the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for introducing this debate and the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the time for it.

This debate is important and timely. Although we have had only a few contributions, they have been significant and important. The hon. Member mentioned the Ashraf 3 camp in Albania, and although it is not entirely clear what has happened there it is important to note his point that the Inter-Parliamentary Union, for which I am on the executive of the British group, will be sending a delegation to Albania. I will make a point of making sure, as best I can, that the delegation raises the matter in its visit.

At the start of my contribution, I make the point that the authoritarian and theocratic regime in Iran presents and presides over a reprehensible repressive state. As has been said, there is little real democracy in today’s Iran. At the beginning of March, there will be elections to the Iranian Parliament and the Assembly of Experts. As has been the case in the past, the Council of Guardians will prevent candidates standing whom the Supreme Leader does not approve. We expect that those who are blocked will be moderate and reforming candidates.

The elections will rightly attract a great deal of attention, not least because they are the first to be held since the widespread protests in Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. As I am sure many Members are aware, her death in September 2022 occurred in police custody after she had been arrested for not complying with strict Islamic dress code. Following her death, there were widespread protests across Iran for a number of months. They were cruelly repressed by the regime, but it is important to remember and to pay tribute to the many thousands of women and girls who were brave enough to take part. Indeed, I was proud to speak in an event in this House organised by the Azadi Network. Speakers were from all parties in this House, and they demonstrated a real solidarity, which all parties have clearly expressed, and I stress that that is so important. It was the House of Commons saying to the Iranian people, “We are with you.”

The protests were subject to appalling brutality in Iran, meted out by the Iranian authorities. It is estimated that at least 20,000 people were detained, including many children. It is estimated, too, that more than 500 people were killed, and many more were seriously injured. The violence did not stop with the end of the demonstrations: there have been many allegations of torture and appalling treatment of detainees, including reports of sexual and gender-based violence against women, men and children.

As has been said, Amnesty International has reported that Iranian security forces are guilty of using the most terrible sexual violence against people who are merely peaceful protesters. It is important to note the comments made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who spoke eloquently about the lack of human rights and pointed out the lack of religious freedom in today’s Iran.

If the Iranian regime is repressive at home, it is guilty of aggression abroad. In fact, it is among the world’s foremost state sponsors of terrorism. Iran, through its so-called proxies, is guilty of helping to initiate violence across much of the middle east. Iran has supplied huge support to Hamas in Gaza. It has supplied and supported Hezbollah in Lebanon and is still doing so. In Iraq—including in Kurdistan—and in Syria, Iranian sponsored militants have attacked US forces. On Sunday, an Iran-backed group was responsible for a drone attack on a US military base in Jordan that resulted in the death of three American soldiers and the injury of many other people.

As we all know, the Houthis, who again are closely linked to the Iranian regime, have been conducting missile and drone attacks on international shipping in the Red sea. Of course, the US and the UK have been undertaking surgical strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen, and Labour is on record as supporting that proportionate action. Further afield, the Iranian regime has developed close links with Russia and has supplied a large number of drones that are being used in Ukraine, so there can be absolutely no doubt about the Iranian regime’s malign influence across the middle east and the world.

On Tuesday, I raised Iran’s destructive activities across the globe with the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), at FCDO questions. He indicated that the Foreign Secretary was in the region that day and holding meetings on the very issue. He also said that the Government were

“working extensively with Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Israel, Saudi Arabia and America.”—[Official Report, 30 January 2024; Vol. 744, c. 710.]

I would be appreciative if the Minister indicated in his reply how those meetings went and how the ongoing discussions will proceed on this important issue.

We are aware that Iran is active in this country. As a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Harrow East, said, the head of MI5 has previously referred to potential threats by Iran to kidnap or kill British or UK-based people. In 2015, the police discovered an Iranian-linked bomb factory in London. Since the beginning of 2022, Iranians have been responsible for at least 15 potential threats against British or UK-based individuals. That was recognised by a number of hon. Members in the Chamber.

Earlier this week, The Times reported that a number of members of the Iranian diaspora who have spoken out against the Iranian regime have been warned by counter-terrorism police that they face an increased threat. It is also important to note that the Iranian authorities have been systematically targeting BBC Persian staff, intimidating their families in Iran as well as intimidating staff in this country. Since the protests in Iran in 2022, the BBC security team has reported that the risks to BBC Persian staff have “increased”. Because of those very real threats, I believe that the sanctions introduced, and the further ones announced, should be welcomed. I hope, however, that the Government will closely examine other ways in which pressure can be brought to bear on the appalling Iranian regime.

One additional measure ought to be the total proscription of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. I understand that there is ongoing debate in Government about this, but if they do not bring forward appropriate measures that would lead to a total ban of the IRGC in this country, Labour will do so if it forms a Government. If the Government do that now, Labour will support it. I hope that the Government will respond in a truly positive way.

This has been an important debate with excellent contributions. This issue should unite all of us who believe strongly in democracy, freedom and human rights in this country and throughout the world.