UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has drawn ridicule for claims that he severed lucrative engagements on Iranian TV after the 2009 Green Movement was repressed.
Questioned over his apparent reluctance to condemn the government of Iran, the Labour leader said his interactions with the country have been focussed on Iran’s nuclear progress and their poor human rights record.
Official records show that the MP had been paid up to £20,000 (Dh104,000) from Iran for press events. This involved hosting phone-ins on Press TV, the Iranian state-owned broadcaster.
Mr Corbyn said that his appearances on Press TV were “a very long time ago”. Yet last featured on their shows in 2012, three years after the protest movement was crushed and a year after it broadcast forced confessions.
Asked about taking money from Iran for press events, Mr Corbyn replied “a very long time ago, I did some programmes for Press TV. I ceased to do any programmes when they treated the Green movement the way that they did”.
The Iranian Green Movement arose after the rigged 2009 Iranian presidential election when protesters demanded the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office. It was the largest protest to take place in the country after the Iranian Revolution of 1978–79. The government cracked down on the demonstrators, with the use of tear gas and hundreds of arrests of protestors, journalists and political leaders.
Mr Corbyn defended his interactions with Iran and his appearances on Press TV, saying he used the exposure to push for better human rights in the country.
“At all of those occasions [I] made my voice very clear about human rights abuses because I want to lead a government that puts human rights at the centre of its foreign policy no matter how uncomfortable it is with any government around the world”.
Press TV had been based in the outskirts of London before their broadcasting license was revoked in 2012 by Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting regulator. In 2011, Press TV was fined £100,000 (Dh518,000) for broadcasting an interview that was “conducted under duress”. The journalist Maziar Bahiri, who had been imprisoned, later revealed he was threatened and told he would be killed if he did not give answers that he had been ordered to give.
Mr Corbyn received his final payment six months after this.
Viewers took to Twitter to criticise his comments.
“Even if you ignore for a moment that Corbyn's timeline doesn't add up, the real question is why he ever took money from Iran. The regime didn't turn into monsters over night. They've hanged gays, stoned women, tortured atheists, and cleansed minorities since 1979,” wrote Julie Lenarz, director of the Human Security Centre on Twitter.
“Corbyn has lobbied against sanctions for Iran, has lobbied for including them in Syria "talks". This isn't *just* about going on a TV channel, its about Corbyn's outwardly pro-Tehran politics. Stop misleading people”, wrote Oz Katerji, a freelance journalist.
During his time on a delegation in Iran, in which he was accompanied by a number of other British MPs, he said he “spent the whole of that time at that delegation discussing two things: the nuclear issue and human rights. I raised human rights at every conceivable opportunity during that”.
He went on to say he believes that the Iran nuclear deal is good and welcome but said the issues of human rights abuse in Iran “is totally wrong”.
Mr Corbyn said that he makes human rights demands on Iran.
Professor Dr Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, the author of psycho-nationalism: global thought, Iranian Imaginations and the Chair for the Centre for Iranian Studies at SOAS university, told the National it is “necessary and prudent” to keep an open dialogue with Iran, but that Iran is unlikely to take much notice of Mr Corbyn’s arguments on human rights.
Asked if Mr Corbyn will be able to put pressure on Iran to improve its human rights record, the academic said: “No I don’t. Iran and other countries in the region need to be engaged on the human rights question on an equal footing and without hypocrisy. Human rights have been too often used as a Trojan Horse for domination and US wars, as in Iraq in 2003...I would like to see a Human Rights Council driven by the citizens of the Gulf - who want to live in peace and who are in their majority tired of wars and conflicts”.
“When he appeared on Iranian TV he was more of an audacious Member of Parliament. Now, he is leading the Labour Party, so he is under greater scrutiny, hence he has to be more diplomatic in his media engagements,” he continued.
A statement issued by a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said: 'Jeremy's involvement with Press TV ended when changes to the way they were operating meant he could not participate without political interference.
“His involvement with Press TV allowed him to deplore all human rights abuses, which he has consistently raised with Iran, including on a visit of British MPs to Tehran.
“Jeremy put the payments from Press TV towards his constituency office”.