What is happening between Italy and Iran

Politics - January 17, 2023

Italy and Iran are at loggerheads. Dialogue, in the light of the declarations made by the main Italian institutional representatives regarding what is happening in Iran, is increasingly difficult. The choice of field of the government of Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy and of the ECR, is very clear: on the side of freedom against those who kill and condemn their citizens to death.

Relations between the two nations

Historically, relations between the two nations have always been more than good – except when after the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini Iran decided to isolate itself from most Western countries – especially from an economic point of view. In 2005, 7.5% of all exports arriving in Iran came from Italy. In 2018, Italy was Iran’s main European partner. In the last 40 years, 25 agreements and Memorandums of Understanding have been signed between the two countries with the aim of collaboration politically, culturally, economically and commercially. Without forgetting the deep historical bond that binds the Roman civilization to the Persian one. There is no shortage of poems in which they quote each other several times. The first cultural pact between the two countries was signed as early as 533 AD. between the Sassanid king Anushirvan and the Roman emperor Justinian.

What is happening in Iran

In light of all this, the position taken by President Meloni is even less obvious. And only those who have had to fight for freedom in their life know how unfair it is to deprive someone else of it. As has been said several times, the protests in Iran kicked off last September after the death of Mahsa Amini, a girl who has become a symbol of her peers. From the day of his funeral to today, protests have spread to 161 cities and all 31 provinces of the country. Protagonists of the protests were initially the girls out of solidarity. The response from the regime was not long in coming. A bloody crackdown was the ayatollahs’ plan of action. Leading the repression are the Pasdaran, in particular the Basij paramilitary corps. According to Human Rights Activists News Agency estimates, 520 demonstrators have been killed to date, 70 of them children. While the number of those arrested reaches 19,000. Other sources say that those arrested are at least double. Thanks to the favorable vote of 227 out of 290 Iranian parliamentarians, the judiciary is authorized to issue qisas sentences against the moharebs. That is to say the death penalty against the “enemies of God”. In early December, Mohsen Shekari and Majidreza Rahnavard were hanged following a conviction. On January 7, two more protesters were killed. All this, according to various humanitarian groups, following summary trials behind closed doors with confessions extracted following torture. In Iran, it should be stressed, there is no real separation between the executive, legislative and judicial powers as the last word always belongs to the Supreme Leader Khamenei. To date, there have been 4 executions but the number of protesters on whom a qisas sentence has been issued is 17.

The Italian position

Exactly for this reason, the condemnation of Giorgia Meloni, Italian Prime Minister, Antonio Tajani, Foreign Minister and Sergio Mattarella, President of the Republic, was unanimous. In fact, the first, on the occasion of the press conference at the end of the year, had clearly expressed her strongest condemnation of the violent repression against demonstrators. Repression and the death penalty for those who protest for a nation like Italy are “unacceptable”. “We have always been a country in dialogue but if the repressions do not cease, Italy’s attitude will have to change completely”, Giorgia Meloni explained on that occasion. Having no hesitation in also stating that Italy, if necessary, will speak with its allies “to understand how to make our action more effective”. Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani is also on the same lines as the Italian prime minister: “The West can apply pressure and ask for a moratorium on the death penalty and forcefully ask for a dialogue between the Iranian authorities and the women and young people who manifest”. And he added, with regard to the speech on nuclear power: “I believe that a door should be left open to diplomacy as regards the nuclear issue, but since the executions began, Iran has crossed a red line and it seems have reached a point of no return. We hope that there may be a sudden setback, but it is very difficult, indeed I have the impression that the regime is entrenching itself more and more with the strengthening of the role of the Pasdaran by continuing a very harsh repression against the people demonstrating in the street”.

Very hard, as perhaps never happened before to a President of the Republic, even Sergio Mattarella. The time has come to put an “immediate end to the violence directed against the population” as Italy’s respect for every foreign country and its institutions finds “an insurmountable limit” when human rights are trampled on. The President of the Republic wanted to personally convey the message to be sent to Tehran to the new Iranian ambassador to Italy, Mohammad Reza Sabour. On the occasion of the meeting between the two at the Quirinale, it was the right occasion to present the Letters of Credence to the diplomat. During their first meeting, Mattarella expressed his personal indignation at the ongoing repression that took place in the presence of the government. Also present was Edmondo Cirielli, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. What is particularly striking is not the message, already expressed as said by numerous government and institutional representatives, but the frankness with which the President expressed his words, also made known in a note. Also, at the first meeting with the Iranian ambassador. In fact, President Mattarella expressed “the firm condemnation of the Italian Republic and his personal indignation at the brutal repression of demonstrations and at the death sentences and executions of many demonstrators”. Hence the exhortation to put an immediate end to “violence against the population”.

The Iranian response

Obviously, the Iranian response was not long in coming. Mohammed Reza Sabouri after receiving the credential letters from the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella reiterated that the Islamic Republic accepts and shares international law and supports respect for human dignity at the same time, however, he underlined that Iran is not willing to accept interference from anyone. “We respect human values, but we do not accept that other countries impose their culture and lifestyle on us”. And he adds: “We will not exchange our security and independence for anything, we will not become satellites of any country”. Sabouri also declared that during the protests “over 50 members of the security forces were killed and 8,000 injured”. The ambassador reiterated that inciting unrest and violence is not acceptable to anyone. “Especially the unrest that has the backing of Western countries that have sent their elements to Iran as tourists.” He then asked Italy not to take part in a possible designation by European countries against the Pasdaran as a terrorist group. This is because for Iran it would mean crossing the “red line”. Without explaining, however, what this red line is and how relationships would be compromised.