As COVID-19 cases mount across the country, Iran has suspended flights with neighbouring Pakistan and badly hit India.
Tehran, Iran – In a strongly worded letter to the Council of the European Union, Iran formally protested against the blacklisting of several individuals and entities and what it says are European double standards on human rights in Iran.
The letter was written by the High Council of Human Rights of Iran – an entity under the country’s Supreme National Security Council currently headed by judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi and comprised of several ministers – and handed to Portugal’s ambassador to Tehran Carlos Costa Neves as the country currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU.
It comes in response to a move on April 12 by the EU to sanction eight military commanders and police chiefs, in addition to three prisons, for their role in a deadly crackdown of public protests in November 2019 that Amnesty International said led to at least 304 deaths.
The EU has now blacklisted 89 individuals and four entities as part of its decade-long human rights sanctions regime against those who it says are violating human rights in Iran.
In response, Iran’s foreign ministry said it will immediately suspend talks with the EU on human rights and all resulting cooperation, including that on “terrorism”, illicit drugs, and refugees. It also traced “political intentions” behind the move and said is considering reciprocal sanctions.
In its letter, the Iranian human rights council condemns the EU for its policies that it says are “enforcing the illegal and oppressive sanctions” unilaterally imposed by the United States after it withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018.
The sanctions, which intensified only after the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, have hampered imports of food and medicine, in addition to creating money transfer issues in buying coronavirus vaccines.
The letter says a number of EU member states have imposed “intentional damage on the health and wellbeing of the Iranian people, particularly children, women, the elderly, and persons with disability”.
For instance, it lists the names of more than a dozen children who died because of a lack of access to vital medicine to treat epidermolysis bullosa (EB), a rare medical condition that results in blistering of the skin and mucous membranes.
It also describes how several European countries refused to work or deal with Iranian firms on medicine, medical equipment, and vaccines, and says several airports have failed to provide services to Iranian passenger planes because of US sanctions.
The human rights council also condemns the fact that Iranian migrants and students have faced difficulties in opening bank accounts in European countries based on their nationality, and says several Iranian citizens are held in European prisons on “arbitrary” charges and have been mistreated in prison.
Moreover, it says the EU should have unequivocally condemned the January 2020 assassination of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani by the United States as a “clear example of state terrorism” that Iran believes was assisted by elements within the German government.
Among other things, the council also holds that a number of European countries continue to shelter members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, which Iran recognises as a “terrorist organisation”, and provided Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
The letter is aimed at holding the EU accountable for its double standards on human rights in Iran, according to the deputy for international affairs at the Iranian council.
The letter is focused on two things: the violation of Iranians’ human rights by the EU inside Iran, and in European countries, Seyyed Majid Tafreshi told Al Jazeera.
“The Europeans who have so many claims on human rights are themselves the perpetrators of many human rights violations of Iranian citizens,” he said.
Tafreshi also said it is unfair that the EU directs the majority of its attention towards “following illegal sanctions imposed by the US” while ignoring the plight of Iranians inside and outside the country.
According to Tafreshi, the human rights council expects an “actionable response” to its letter, which called on the EU to “bring the violators of the fundamental rights of the Iranian nation into trial without any politicisation”.
It would only “strengthen Iran’s position” if the EU fails to adequately respond, he said.
An EU source told Al Jazeera the Council of the EU has yet to receive the letter, so it cannot comment on its contents.
Peter Stano, an EU spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, said it would be wrong to claim the EU has supported US sanctions on Iran.
“Quite to the contrary, the EU repeatedly rejected the unilateral imposition of the US sanctions and prevented US efforts under the Trump administration to reintroduce UN sanctions on Iran,” he said.
“And it was the EU that was always looking for ways to enable food and medicine supplies to Iran, especially in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. To claim otherwise is utter lack of knowledge and ignorance.”
Stano said the new European sanctions listings are completely unrelated to continuing efforts to restore the Iran nuclear deal.
“The EU supports a balanced, comprehensive approach with Iran through dialogue, with a view to addressing all issues of concern including human rights,” he said. “We are critical when there are divergences and cooperative when there is mutual interest.”
Talks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna have been continuing for several weeks, with all sides saying progress is being made on lifting US sanctions and reversing Iran’s nuclear steps despite lingering challenges.