Could the Dutch have stopped the hanging in Iran?

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Was there any way the Netherlands could have prevented the execution of Dutch-Iranian woman Zahra Bahrami? Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal says his did his utmost but others in The Hague have their doubts.

Zahra Bahrami was hanged late last week in Iran - sentenced to death, ostensibly for trafficking in drugs but more likely for taking part in last year's anti-government protests. Just hours before the execution Mr Rosenthal was, he claims, in contact with Tehran. He was assured that the trial of Ms Bahrami was still continuing. The foreign minister reacted with astonishment at the execution and broke off all diplomatic contact with Iran.

No refuelling
Democrat party leader Alexander Pechtold is one of the Dutch politicians who has openly questioned whether the minister really tried hard enough. Hadn't the Netherlands offended Iran in December when it was announced the Iranian foreign minister wouldn't be allowed to refuel his plane in the Netherlands? The Iranian minister decided to cancel his visit to the Netherlands and he and Uri Rosenthal never got to discuss the Bahrami case.

Mr Rosenthal denies that this decision caused a crucial rift in the contacts with Tehran.
"No, I don't feel that's true at all since there were numerous contacts after that. Let me put it this way: what have it come to if we're willing to exchange a human life for a jerry can of oil?"

Dialogue
D66 party leader Pechtold believes Minister Rosenthal is clearly on a different wavelength from his predecessors.
"Other - previous - ministers were somewhat more concerned about human rights. This minister began his term of office with an interview in which he said he wanted to put less emphasis on human rights. Less than the previous foreign minister Maxime Verhagen. Even former minister Ben Bot got involved with this case recently, at the request of the family."

Uri Rosenthal, however, insists he did everything possible to maintain a dialogue with the Iranian authorities. He points out that he also had to take into account the fates of various other Dutch Iranians imprisoned in Iran. 

Weak
However, the fact remains that Ms Bahrami's lawyers were not contacted by officials from the Dutch embassy in Tehran until two weeks ago. Earlier the foreign ministry stated that the Dutch state only provides financial and legal support in cases of this kind if the death sentence has formally been pronounced and the defendant has appealed against the sentence.

Critics say that's rather weak for a country that claims to be so committed to defending human rights.

(imm)