Questions have been asked as to why President Cyril Ramaphosa has downplayed human rights abuses in Iran, which is known for executing gay people.
On Tuesday, Ramaphosa tweeted about his warm and friendly conversations with two controversial world leaders who have been widely criticised for human rights abuses and repressive leadership.
In the first tweet, he wrote: “I had a call with my Brother, President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela yesterday. Our two countries share a close and deep historical bond based on friendship, solidarity and cooperation.”
Maduro has effectively ruled Venezuela by decree since 2015 and has been slammed for running his country into the ground, leaving his people starving. Described by many as a dictator, he has been accused of allowing crimes against humanity and human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings of poor people. In the past, he has called opposition members and opponents “big f*ggots.”
In 2018, the government registered 5,287 killings, purportedly for “resistance to authority,” says a 2019 UN report. Human Rights Watch notes that “The massive exodus of Venezuelans fleeing repression and shortages represents the largest migration crisis of its kind in recent Latin American history.”
Also on Tuesday, Ramaphosa revealed: “Earlier today I had a most wonderful conversation with His Excellency President Hassan Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Like many countries across the world, the coronavirus has had a devastating impact on #Iran and has caused serious damage to their economy.”
While Ramaphosa’s concerns about the humanitarian plight of the people of Iran due to the coronavirus and sanctions is admirable, his chummy tone when it comes to President Rouhani is upsetting.
Iran is ruthless in clamping down on opposition and free speech, detaining lawyers and human rights defenders and killing and arresting protestors. Iran is also one of the few countries in the world where same-sex sexuality is punishable by death. In fact, Iran executes hundreds of people every year (the second-highest annual execution rate after China, according to Amnesty International), including those who may be found guilty of homosexuality.
“Iranian law vaguely defines what constitutes acts against morality, and authorities have long censored art, music, and other forms of cultural expression, as well as prosecuted hundreds of people for such acts,” said Human Rights Watch in 2018. “These laws often disproportionally target women and sexual minorities.”
In January 2019, it was reported that a 31-year-old unidentified man had been publicly hanged in the southwestern city of Kazeroon after being found guilty of having sex with another man. The foreign minister of Iran told journalists in June of that year that his country’s policy of executing gay people is justified on the basis of “moral principles regarding the behaviour of people.”
In a New24 opinion piece, columnist, entrepreneur and author Howard Feldman asked why Ramaphosa would “choose to publicly support Rouhani who unashamedly hangs gay people from cranes in public and who subjects the women of that country to constant and unrelenting abuse?”
While it’s a reality that our leaders must sometimes engage with others who are far from admirable, it’s unclear why President Ramaphosa – a vocal supporter of the LGBTQ community – decided to so personally praise and elevate two dubious leaders like President Maduro and President Rouhani on social media.