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Shirin Ebadi Calls Iran ‘Incorrigible’

FRANCE -- Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi poses during a news conference on Iran at the Reporters without Borders (RSF) offices in Paris, February 7, 2019

Speaking to the Al Jazeera TV network, Iranian dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has described Iran as "incorrigible," insisting that the only way toward reform in her homeland is through changing its constitution.

The interview was aired less than a week after Washington decided not to extend the Iran oil sanctions waivers.

The decision was made as part of the Trump administration's "utmost pressure" strategy aimed at depriving Iran of all its revenue from oil exports.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insists the move will choke off Iran’s revenue amounting to more than $50 billion a year.

Referring to the U.S. decision, Ebadi said she supported sanctions but only those that don't harm the Iranian people. She singled out Iran’s non-Persian speaking TV channels that use Western satellites to broadcast propaganda shows across the world.

"Prohibit the use of these satellites for Iran so that it would cut off Iran's propaganda megaphones," Ebadi told Al Jazeera. "How do you think that some of the Syrian, Lebanese, or Yemeni youth support Iran? It's through the same TV networks that the Islamic Republic deceives the young people.”

With branches in 20 countries worldwide including France, Belgium, Malaysia, Lebanon, United Kingdom, the United States, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) offers both domestic and foreign radio and television services. It broadcasts 12 local television channels, four international news television channels, six satellite television channels for international audiences, and 30 provincial television channel available countrywide, half of which make use of local accents or dialects.

The state-run IRIB, which has monopolized the right to broadcast radio and TV programs in Iran, also runs 30 radio stations exclusively for international audiences.

Furthermore, the IRIB has Arabic, Hindi, English, Urdu, French, and Spanish channels, besides the native Persian.

In an interview with pro-reform Sharq daily on March 12, former IRIB head Mohammad Sarafraz revealed that it had nearly 20,000 staff plus 20,000 more external contributors, including 3,000 managing directors.

The budget for IRIB under Sarafraz's predecessor, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Ezzatollah Zarghami, amounted to 20 trillion rials (approximately $480 million), with 27 trillion rials (about $640 million) in expenditures.

On April 19, Google deactivated the IRIB's English-speaking TV channel (Press TV) and its Spanish-speaking (HispanTV) accounts on YouTube for violating the company's regulations.

However, the Iranian authorities have accused Google of relenting to Washington's sanctions imposed on Tehran.

Earlier, several Iranian dissident groups had also called for imposing sanctions on the IRIB since it had aired "forced confessions" of political prisoners.

Sarafraz is the only IRIB-related person sanctioned so far by the European Union. In 2013, the EU adopted restrictive measures against Sarafraz and recognized him as being associated with violating human rights and cooperating with Iranian security services and prosecutors to broadcast "forced confessions of political prisoners." He was the manager of Press TV when his name was added to the list of individuals sanctioned by the EU.

Regardless of the sanction, Sarafraz was promoted directly by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to head the IRIB on November 10, 2014.

However, less than two years later on May 11, 2016, Sarafraz was forced to resign after political infighting among members of the ultra-conservative camp dominating Iran.

During Al Jazeera's exclusive interview, Ebadi asserted that she did not believe in foreign interference in Iran's internal affairs, but insisted that no reform is possible in her homeland under the country's present constitution.

"In the past two decades, different ways have been tested to see whether the Islamic Republic regime could be reformed or not," said Ebadi, who has lived in exile since 2009 in the United Kingdom. "Regretfully, all tests and experiences have been negative. No reform is possible in Iran until its constitution is changed, and that's what should be done by the people of Iran, and inside Iran."

The first Iranian and Muslim woman Nobel Peace Prize laureate (2003), Ebadi believes the Islamic Republic is a "one-man show" dominated by Khamenei.

"One should remember that Iran's foreign policy is not set by the foreign minister or even by the president," Ebadi said. "Therefore, Zarif is merely a puppet, and that's why when he recently resigned, they confronted him, and he immediately took back his resignation."

Ebadi, 71, asserted that one of the main reasons she calls for the change of Iran's constitution is the dominating role of its supreme leader, who has the last word on all national matters.

As far as the constitution stipulates that the supreme leader has the pivotal role in all social, political, and economic affairs of the country, Ebadi argued,no reform is possible.

In February 2017, Ebadi, along with several political activists, including prominent lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Islamic Revolution veterans Abolfazl Qadyani, renowned human rights defender and physicist Narges Mohammadi, former head of Tehran University Mohammad Maleki, and Islamic scholar Mohsen Kadivar, called for holding a referendum under the supervision of the United Nations, to decide Iran's political future.