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Britain’s veteran rights advocate challenges Human Rights Watch on Iran report

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Iran Focus: London, May 26 – A prominent British human rights advocate strongly criticised Human Rights Watch over the New York-based organization’s controversial report on an Iranian opposition group, saying that the “disreputable and biased” investigation that led to the report has “seriously tarnished the reputation of Human Rights Watch, and undermined public confidence in the integrity of your human rights work as a whole”. Iran Focus

London, May 26 – A prominent British human rights advocate strongly criticised Human Rights Watch over the New York-based organization’s controversial report on an Iranian opposition group, saying that the “disreputable and biased” investigation that led to the report has “seriously tarnished the reputation of Human Rights Watch, and undermined public confidence in the integrity of your human rights work as a whole”.

Lord Avebury, founder and former chairman of Britain’s Parliamentary Human Rights Group and an indefatigable defender of human rights around the world, noted in his letter to Human Rights Watch that the group had published “allegations without giving the [Iranian opposition group People’s Mojahedin of Iran, or PMOI”> an opportunity of reply”.

Human Rights Watch’s 28-page report alleged that the PMOI abused the rights of “disaffected” members at their base in Camp Ashraf, Iraq. The report’s apocryphal methodology, sources and timing have led to a chorus of consternation and dismay in several countries, while Iran’s state-run media have given it extensive coverage.

Lord Avebury engaged in a series of protracted correspondence with Human Rights Watch in 1994 and 1997 over what turned out to be unsubstantiated allegations of human rights abuses by the Iranian opposition. “I am astonished that after the severe criticism the previous exercise attracted, you saw fit to ignore such an elementary principle of natural justice a second time, and with the same target”, Lord Avebury wrote in his letter to Human Rights Watch.

The British Peer, now serving as vice-chairman of Parliamentary Human Rights Group, said there was an ongoing “propaganda campaign waged intensively against the PMOI and its members by the Iranian secret police under their Ministry of Intelligence and Security [VEVAK”>. The persons interviewed by HRW had previously been identified as agents by the PMOI”.

“The report claims that the allegations made by the interviewees were corroborated by ‘other evidence’ but gives no indication of its source or nature. No forensic evidence was sought or obtained to back up the allegations of torture, which are treated as facts”, Lord Avebury wrote.

A member of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary foreign affairs team, Lord Avebury works on a range of human rights issues, as well as on immigration and asylum. He is currently a member of the Justice and Home Affairs Subcommittee of the EU Select Committee.

Lord Avebury said in the letter to Human Rights Watch, made available by his office in Westminster, that there published evidence showing that Mohammad Hossein Sobhani, one of HRW’s key witnesses, was a team leader working for Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security “with the task of training other members engaged in the campaign against the PMOI”. He noted that another HRW witness, Karim Haggi Moni (a.k.a. Karim Haqi), “made similar allegations to Dr Maurice Copithorne, the former UN Rapporteur, but Dr Copithorne was unable to find any confirmation and published nothing on the subject”.

Lord Avebury referred to an interview in which Joe Stork, HRW’s Middle East chief, had denied any knowledge of previous invitations by the Iranian group to visits its camps in Iraq. “When you were asked about the PMOI’s invitations to visit their camps in Iraq, you replied ‘This is the first I have heard of it’. Considering that it was a major issue in my correspondence with your predecessors in 1994 and 1997, that defies belief. I can’t believe that HRW is so inefficient as to have lost all knowledge of such a controversial matter, after being reminded of the numerous invitations in several of my letters. I think you knew perfectly well that HRW had been invited to visit the camps, but chose to deny it for political reasons”.

“Whatever you may think of the PMOI politically”, the British Peer concluded, “you have broken elementary rules of fairness by publishing charges against them which have no foundation in credible evidence, and without giving them an opportunity of reply”.

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