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Iran: Interview -- Belgian Lawyer On Lawsuit Against Rafsanjani

Prague, 6 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL spoke today with Marc Libert, the lawyer for the plaintiff who has filed a human rights suit against former Iranian President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani in a Belgian court. Correspondent Charles Recknagel spoke with Libert by phone from Brussels:

RFE/RL: What are the charges against Mr. Rafsanjani, and are they against him personally or against him as a representative of the Iranian regime?

"It is a suit against Mr. Rafsanjani in his capacity as a historic representative of the regime which has been in power since 1979 in Iran. My client wanted to file a suit for crimes against humanity and feels that his case is an example of the repressive acts which took place in Iran from 1980 and to which Belgium's 1999 law covering crimes against humanity can be applied. By definition, crimes against humanity are committed during a time of war, or are a generalized or systematic assault against a civil population -- including killings, exterminations, forced slavery, deportation or forced transfers of populations, imprisonment or other serious deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape, sexual crimes, etc. -- and are perpetrated on any group or identifiable community. [My client] was arrested in 1983 with hundreds of other people as part of a campaign to eliminate the Tudeh party, the Iranian party which I believe was close to the communist party, and he was lucky because he was not executed when many other activists were [killed] as part of a general repression of secular opponents of the Iranian regime. So, he believes that his experience fits the definition of a crime against humanity which, according to Belgian law, can be the basis of a lawsuit in Belgium."

RFE/RL: Was the plaintiff a Belgian citizen at the time of these actions?

"Yes, he was already a Belgian citizen. He was naturalized during the 1970s."

RFE/RL: Does the Belgian court only have jurisdiction over the case of this Belgian citizen who says he suffered crimes against humanity, or is it acting on behalf of all Iranians during this period who suffered from repressive acts by the regime?

"It is a fact that crimes against humanity or war crimes or genocide cannot exist if there is only a single victim. There must be a great number of victims in order to define a crime as a crime against humanity. So, that is why I say that the suit by my client is an example of what a certain number of people in Iran suffered since 1980. The other people are the other members of the Tudeh party or other students or other groups or minorities or opposition members who also were imprisoned. I don't think that even the Iranian state would contest that a great number of people were arrested in Iran, and that one could define them as political prisoners. And it is those political prisoners who are, according to my client, the victims of a crime against humanity and that is the definition of the Belgian law."

Libert says the Belgian government is not involved in the action:

"I would like to tell you that [the government] of Belgium has nothing to do with this suit, it is a suit which is by one person who has gone to court, and the judge is now examining the suit and will say whether it is well-founded or not. And if he decides it is not, then the case will be over. But if he decides it is well-founded, then he will conduct an investigation and, as necessary, will ask to question this or that person, and that could end in filing criminal charges. But the Belgian government has taken no position in the affair, it is not an interference by the Belgian state in Iran's internal affairs. It is a court examination of a suit filed by a Belgian citizen who says he is the victim of a certain number of things he suffered in Iran which are against the principles of international law, the principles of human rights, and international conventions to which Iran adheres, and justice is now taking its course."

RFE/RL: What kind of court action against Mr. Rafsanjani could this case lead to?

"There is a wide range of measures available to a judge -- and that's true not only for Belgian judges but anywhere in the world -- he has the power to issue an international arrest warrant. That would only have an effect if the person against whom the warrant is issued leaves his country, since there is no extradition treaty between [Belgium and Iran] and Iran is not likely to extradite this person."

RFE/RL: Why did your client name Mr. Rafsanjani in his suit, when Mr. Rafsanjani was not the head of the Iranian regime at the time of these events?

"My client says that Mr. Rafsanjani is a person who took a key, historic role in the Iranian revolution. He is one of the pillars of the revolution. Mr. Rafsanjani has always been at the center of power, whether as speaker of the parliament, president of the republic, or religious authority. Mr. Rafsanjani controlled directly or indirectly the justice system, the revolutionary Islamic tribunals and, also, the Iranian security services. And that is why Mr. Rafsanjani is, more effectively than anyone else, the greatest symbol in Iran today of the Iran of yesterday [when these actions took place]. And that is why he is targeted by this suit."

RFE/RL: Is the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also implicated in the suit?

"No, [my client] did not want to file a suit against more than one person even though one could have a multitude of other names. My client thought that [many names] would reduce the symbolic effectiveness of his suit."

RFE/RL: What will be the next step in this affair?

"I think this is a case which could take a number of months to pass through the courts, because the judge in charge of the file will have to question a whole series of people, assemble documents, witness statements, UN reports, reports by Amnesty International, reports from all points of the compass, to develop an opinion on any role Mr. Rafsanjani played in the crimes against humanity as charged by my client. And it is not impossible that in a number of months the judge even may want to question Mr. Rafsanjani or another official of the Iranian regime, or decide to issue an arrest warrant. It is impossible for us to know at this moment how the judge will proceed."

Iran has condemned the accusations against Rafsanjani as unwarranted interference in its domestic affairs and formally protested to Brussels.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who succeeded Rafsanjani as president in 1997, has said the investigation against Rafsanjani was the work of, to quote, "enemies of the Iranian nation" and that Iran would "spare no effort to defend its credibility, strength and dign ity."

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi said today that Iran was seeking to obtain more information on the case and played down its import. He also said that the Belgian court had no authotity to bring any charges against Rafsanjani.

[Eds: Note that the statements by Mr. Libert reflect his own opinions.]