Western leaders may be welcoming Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with open arms as he embarks on an “international shopping spree” to open a “new chapter” in relations with Europe, but Europeans themselves seem far less content to overlook Iran’s negative conduct.
The gestures made by some protestors in objection to Rouhani’s visit to Europe – and most recently to France – were widely reported in the English-language press and shared on social media this weekend. One act of protest which received widespread coverage was that of a Femen activist who “hanged herself” from a Paris bridge in a partially-clothed state (with the Iranian flag covering her chest) to protest Iran’s staggering execution rate (see video here) – a stark contrast to the modestly-covered naked statues that greeted Rouhani during his visit to Rome just days previously. The activist was “hanged execution-style” from a footbridge over the Seine near the Eiffel Tower, underneath a huge banner reading “Welcome Rouhani, Executioner of Freedom.”
Femen’s spokeswoman in France, Sarah Constantin, was cited by various news outlets saying the mock-hanging, or “public display,” was meant to raise awareness to “the fact that every year, more than 800 people are sentenced to death” in Iran – among them “women, feminists, homosexuals, and free-thinkers who are rotting on death row.” She added that Femen’s gesture to “welcome” the Iranian president should have made him “feel right at home” – as hangings are a matter of course in Iran under the “moderate” Rouhani. Constantin urged French President Francois Hollande to put human rights first when dealing with Iran – despite the allure of the post-sanctions business opportunities created by the implementation of the nuclear deal earlier this month.
The plea by Constantine was not the one and only. Other protesters joined in.
20 agreements may have been signed between French and Iranian firms in fields from air transport to oil after an unusually “close-lipped” and “rigid” Hollande’s meeting with a “grinning” Rouhani. Yet, the major news outlets were not blind to the fact that Rouhani’s Europe tour was underpinned by “contrasts” and “East-West tensions.” Not all were prepared to overlook Iran’s terrible record for financial benefits.