By Louis Charbonneau
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi on Monday called on the European Union and United States to ban Iran from using U.S. and European satellites to broadcast what she described as the Islamic Republic's propaganda.
Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and former judge who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work promoting human rights in Iran, accused Western powers of focusing too little attention on rights abuses as they pursue a deal with Tehran aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions.
She criticized the economic and financial sanctions regime against Iran, a web of U.S., EU and U.N. measures aimed at crippling Tehran's nuclear and missile programs and pressuring the government to abandon what Western powers and their allies suspect is a quest to develop an atomic weapons capability.
"Economic sanctions have impacted powerfully," Ebadi, 66, told Reuters in an interview. "People have become very poor. Some kinds of medications cannot be found in Iran. The price of food is higher in Iran than in the U.S. or Europe."
The sanctions that are harming ordinary Iranians should be replaced with ones that weaken the government but not the people, she said. One example she gave involved barring Iran from using U.S. and European satellites to broadcast programs in more than a dozen non-Farsi languages outside the country.
"We have to stop the government of Iran from being able to use the satellites," Ebadi said through an interpreter. "This way we can close down the propaganda microphones of the government."
She also said that senior government officials, from deputy minister up, should face travel bans and asset confiscations when they have funds deposited with European and American banks.
In a response to Ebadi's remarks, Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran's U.N. mission, said that after Iran's recent presidential election "held in an open, free, fair, transparent and democratic way, the Islamic Republic of Iran has entered into a new stage of democracy and the rule of law."
Ebadi, who has been living in exile in Britain since 2009, expressed disappointment with Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, widely seen as more moderate than his stridently anti-Western predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"The motto of Mr Rouhani was that he was going to change the conditions and this is why people voted for him," she said. "Unfortunately that's not what happened."
IRAN SAYS RIGHTS SAFEGUARDED
Miryousefi said that "Iran, especially after the election of President Rouhani, has put a new emphasis on its unwavering dedication towards the promotion and protection of all human rights inside and outside the country."
"Iran has taken a long-term approach and genuine measures to safeguard all human rights of its people including through ensuring their compliance with all its relevant commitments under international law, taking into account principles enshrined in the constitution," he said in an emailed response.
One example of Iran's new approach, Miryousefi said, is that Rouhani has instructed his government to draft a "Charter of Citizenship Rights" and ordered that all government complaints against journalists be withdrawn, leading to the release and pardon of 86 inmates.
He added that Rouhani has appointed a special assistant on minority affairs to ensure that ethnic and religious minorities' rights are safeguarded.
Ebadi said the number of executions in Iran since Rouhani's June election was twice what it was a year ago, when Ahmadinejad was still in power. Nearly all of the opposition activists in prison before he was elected are still in prison and religious and ethnic minorities continue to be persecuted, she added.
Ebadi cited figures from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), which reported that over 200 people, including as many as four minors, were executed between June 14 and October 1. She said it was double the number of executions that took place in the same period in 2012.
"Unfortunately the world focuses on nuclear energy more than human rights and does not pay attention to the situation of violations of human rights in Iran," she said. "And this is why the human rights conditions are worsening in Iran."
Later this week, senior officials from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - and Germany will meet with Iranian negotiators in Geneva to discuss the possibility of a deal on Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is purely peaceful.
The United States has said that last month's six-power talks with Iran aimed at ending the decade-long standoff over Tehran's nuclear ambitions have been more productive than previous rounds. Western diplomats say that is because of the sting of sanctions, which Tehran is keen to remove.
Ebadi, who will be meeting with U.N. officials and diplomats while she is in New York, said the six powers should be discussing more than nuclear centrifuges in Geneva. She warned EU nations not to rush to restore ties with Tehran's government without improvements in Iran's human rights record.
"My question for European countries is - what if they agree with the government of Iran on nuclear issues," she asked.
"Are you willing to shake hands with a government that stones women? Are you going to trust a government that executes its political opposition? Are you willing to compromise standards of human rights, that you believe in, for your own security?"
(Editing by Paul Simao)