A new round of “Zamaneh Debate” will take place on February 15 in Amsterdam with Shirin Ebadi, Sohrab Razzaghi and Mehran Mostafavi focussing on the nuclear issue. In anticipation of the event, Zamaneh interviewed Ms. Ebadi, Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate and legal expert and the force behind the National Dialogue on Nuclear Energy, an initiative to trigger public discussion of nuclear policies.
Zamaneh: Ms. Ebadi, how do you interpret the episode with Babak Zanjani, the Iranian tycoon arrested for alleged involvement in the misappropriation of oil ministry revenues, and what is its connection with the nuclear issues?
Shirin Ebadi: Unfortunately, the Babak Zanjani episode is not a one-of-a-kind story. Sanctions on Iran are being used by many people who, in coordination with certain centres of political power, are reaping millions of dollars in profit. This is exactly why many are opposed to ending the international sanctions, while the people, who are not even able to obtain vital medical drugs, are the chief losers under the sanctions regime.
Meanwhile, those who profit from the sanctions use various methods to restrict open discussion and the dissemination of information about nuclear energy. Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first presidential term, the media have been forbidden from discussing the nuclear issue. They are only allowed to reflect the government’s official statements regarding this matter. Therefore, the public is not able to meaningfully participate in the nuclear energy debate.
Zamaneh: You are trying to open a dialogue about nuclear energy; however, in view of the government’s extreme sensitivity on this issue, do you think this would be possible?
SE: Freedom of speech is the main pillar of democracy. Therefore, the extent of freedom of speech in a society is directly proportionate to the level of democratic progress. The heavy censorship around this issue has kept it from being openly discussed; therefore, the public is not well informed about the issues concerning nuclear energy, such as the environmental hazards of exploiting this form of energy, the high cost of building the Bushehr Nuclear Plant and so on.
However, the internet has been instrumental in recent years in helping the cause of freedom of speech and combating the government’s censorship tactics. This is why the dialogue on nuclear energy was launched in collaboration with a number of civil society activists inside and outside Iran. We welcome experts from various fields to offer their opinions and ideas to raise the awareness of the Iranian people. Both proponents and opponents of nuclear energy should participate so that we have a wide spectrum of views to best inform the public.
Zamaneh: Some people criticize initiatives such as the National Dialogue on Nuclear Energy claiming they hinder the Rohani administration’s efforts to relieve the pressure of international tensions and sanctions faced by the people. What do you have to say to these critics?
SE: The National Dialogue on Nuclear Energy is open to all opinions, both for and against nuclear energy, and there are no set answers to this debate. Since the campaign organizers are against economic sanctions, they all hope for an end to the nuclear disputes with Western countries so that the people are released from the ominous shadow of sanctions. However, nuclear energy and the National Dialogue on Nuclear Energy go beyond the current political negotiations. Aside from the current negotiations, which may result in the complete removal of the sanctions, the issue of nuclear energy will remain a vital question, as the Bushehr Nuclear Plant will continue operating and plans for other nuclear power plants are in the works. It has to be determined whether nuclear power plants are economically, environmentally and technologically in the country’s best interests.
Zamaneh: There has been talk of secret exchanges between Tehran and Washington. Should there be a push for an end to secrecy in diplomatic relations? Is diplomacy the domain of government or can the people claim a right to be part of it?
SE: In democratic countries, secret diplomacy is not justifiable and everything has to be transparent and open to public scrutiny. All meetings, however, do not need to be publicized through the media. Some negotiations are preliminary and may not yield any results, and there is no need for them to be reported. However, the nuclear issue, due to the sanctions, is directly tied to the fate of every Iranian citizen. They cannot find their medical drugs, the national currency has dropped in value by 200 percent, inflation is driving everyone up the wall. Under such conditions, when they come out saying the negotiations have been successful, people need to be fully informed of the details of the agreement that will have such a direct impact on their lives.
More to the point: what Iranian officials keep from the Iranian people is being reported on by the foreign media. So people who are not so immediately affected by the negotiations get to be informed about the agreement, but Iranians, who are the main affected parties in this deal are not given the right to be officially informed about it.
On the other hand, interviews with Iranian politicians have revealed a certain interpretation of the agreement which then turns out to differ from what’s reported by non-Iranian politicians involved in the negotiations.
Transparency in governance is one of the chief conditions of democracy, and it is in this manner that people will take control of their fate and no longer be considered as outsiders.
[translated from the Persian original]