Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Australian Parliament has called on the government of Iran to release seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders "without delay."

25 May 2009
Canberra, Australia

A motion from the House of Representatives expresses "serious concern" that the detained Baha'is have had no access to legal representation and have not been subject to due legal process.

It also expresses concern about charges of "spying, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic Republic, and that these charges could attract the death penalty."

Finally, the motion calls on Iran to "to respect rights to freedom of religion and the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and association, in accordance with international human rights conventions."

Six members of Parliament from both major parties spoke in support of the motion, which was approved on 25 May 2009.

Mr Jim Turnour MP
I rise tonight to support the seven Baha’is detained in Iran. In Australia, we live in the lucky country. We enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of belief. We have a healthy democracy and we have legislation that protects these rights.

While we in Australia enjoy these freedoms, as do the citizens of many countries across the globe, those in Iran do not. Seven leading members of the Iranian Baha’i community have been detained since March and May 2008. They have been charged with spying for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propagandising against the Islamic republic. More recently, I have been advised by the Australian Baha’i community that a new charge appears to have been levelled against the seven—that of spreading corruption on earth...

…The Baha’i detainees have not been subject to due legal process. I understand that they have been waiting for over eight months to be notified of the charges and have been given no access to decent legal representation. The Australian government is concerned that these charges are part of a pattern of official discrimination against members of the Baha’i faith in Iran…

Mr Luke Simpkins MP
It is an honour to speak on this motion tonight as the member for Cowan and represent the Wanneroo Baha’i community within my electorate. On 25 February this year I spoke in the House regarding this very issue, being the persecution of the practitioners of the Baha’i faith and other religious minorities by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. On that occasion I spoke specifically about the Baha’is and the struggles they face in their homeland. In particular this matter is about the imprisonment of the seven main Baha’i leaders in Iran. Those leaders are Mrs Mahvash Sabet, Mrs Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr Afif Naemi, Mr Saeid Rezaie, Mr Behrouz Tavakkoli and Mr Vahid Tizfahm.

On 14 May, just a week ago, the seven Baha’i leaders in Iran had spent a full year in detention. I would like to be able to say that there has been some progress since I last spoke on this issue, but the cause of justice in Iran has only gone backwards in the last few months. It has recently been publicised that the Baha’i seven may face another charge, that of spreading corruption on earth, which is in addition to the other charges reportedly laid. It is my firm view that all these charges have no validity and remain inconsistent with the teachings of the Baha’i faith. I would now like to turn my attention to the latest charge of ‘spreading corruption in the world’. This was apparently the charge by which the Iranian government after the 1979 revolution executed many Baha’is. No doubt it is a thin veil for the intent to eliminate dissent in Iran. It is a trumped-up, catch-all excuse with a single purpose, and that is for an illegitimate and paranoid regime to maintain control over an increasingly sceptical general population…

Mr Steve Georganas MP
I rise today to speak in support of this motion and I do so because it is such an important motion and because seven Iranian Baha’i leaders have been jailed in Iran for a year.

Firstly, there were no formal charges for eight months. After eight months they were charged with trumped-up charges of espionage, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic republic. The detainees have not been given any access to legal representation and have not been subject to due legal process. They are facing charges that could attract the death penalty.

The Australian government is deeply concerned about the situation of the seven members—five men and two women—of the Baha’i community. The Australian government is concerned that these charges constitute official discrimination in Iran against members of the Baha’i faith. On 17 April the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Stephen Smith, conveyed the Australian government’s serious concerns directly to the Iranian foreign minister.

Over the past year the Australian government has regularly raised its concerns about the seven Baha’i detainees with the Iranian authorities and will continue to do so. At the very least, Iran should ensure that any trial is fair, transparent and meets international standards.

The government has also raised the issue at relevant international meetings, including the June session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Australia also co-sponsored a resolution on the human rights situation in Iran at the 63rd UN General Assembly in 2008, which expressed the international community’s strong concern about the current situation of the Baha’is in Iran.

The Hon Wilson Tuckey MP
This is an important motion which, above all else, deals with religious freedom and the prevention of persecution, particularly on religious grounds. From my own reading and also from representations made to me over time in my electorate, I have found people who practice the Baha’i faith to be people of peace and good will. I find it ridiculous to suggest that, in a place like Iran, they would want to be spies.
One might further ask just what that spying would achieve. There has been another case in Iran recently involving a woman broadcaster. She was suddenly dragged into a secret court, found guilty of spying and incarcerated.

When the international community protested as to the injustice of these arrangements, the woman was taken back to court and a plea bargain was arranged. The result was not an eight-year term of incarceration but a two-year suspended sentence. That is like a nothing.

Mr Mark Dreyfus QC, MP
I rise today to support the motion urging Iran to respect the human rights of its Baha’i community. I acknowledge the members of the Baha’i community in the gallery today who are part of the Australian Baha’i community, which has flourished here since 1920. The world watches with increasing apprehension at the deterioration of religious freedom in Iran. The religious fanaticism of the Iranian regime has led to the execution of untold numbers of journalists, writers, trade unionists, gays and lesbians and other minority groups. Not least among these are the Baha’i, whose progressive traditions, such as the equality of women, do not sit well with authoritarian theocracy.

The Baha’i emphasise the spiritual unity of all humankind and speak the common language of human rights. In modern Iran, to be a member of the Baha’i faith or any other minority is to live with the fear of state sanctioned abuse hanging over your family and your community. The arrest of the seven Baha’i leaders in May 2008, which this motion refers to with serious concern, is just one example of this. The lawyer for the seven Baha’i leaders, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, has been refused access to their case files and has been personally intimidated since taking on their case. These arrests are only one matter in a long catalogue of oppression and mistreatment stretching back many years. In 1980, all nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly of Baha’i in Iran were abducted and are presumed dead. In 1983, 10 Baha’i women were hanged for the innocuous act of teaching religious classes to Baha’i youth. The youngest teacher, Mona Mahmudizhad, was 17 years old.

The ugly character of the current Iranian regime has been greeted with horror by many Iranians overseas. A petition by over 500 actors, writers, journalists and artists and other Iranian expatriates living around the world has apologised to the Baha’i community, expressing their dismay that the once great nation of Iran has deteriorated to this.

Mr Jon Sullivan MP
As you will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker Vale, I was not scheduled to speak in this debate but I heard a few moments ago that there was a vacancy, so I am very pleased to be able to take this opportunity to support the motion put forward by my colleague the member for Leichhardt in respect of the circumstances that the Baha’i community find themselves in in Iran at the moment. I must apologise to Erica Cole, the secretary of the local spiritual assembly at home in Longman, as I had indicated to her that I was not going to have an opportunity to speak, so perhaps she will not be glued to the radio or the television to hear the contribution I am about to make. I welcome the members of the Baha’i community who are here today to listen to us support them in what are very troubling times for them. As my colleague has just said, a number of the people in prison, particularly the seven Baha’i that we are concerned about, have relations in Australia. It is important that we as Australians support our fellow Australians of the Baha’i faith.

These folk have been imprisoned for 12 months, essentially without charge. There have been charges levelled but no charges made—a circumstance that we just would not tolerate in our own country. I am not particularly interested in trying to force our standards onto the entire world, but in any part of the civilised world this would be intolerable. I think we have in Iran a country on the cusp, a country that ought to be doing more to look after its community, because it does want to be, I understand, a player in the world situation. Essentially what it is doing is marginalising itself as a country. We have seen other countries come from this situation in the past by recognising the error of their ways. I would hope that the error of Iran’s way in relation to the treatment of the Baha’i’s, not just in 2008 but for many years previously, is something that they will change.

Click here to access the House of Representatives Hansard, Monday 25 May 2009 (Page 132-136).

1 comment:

Rafael Osorio Simpe said...

Interesting article!...Best wishes from Perú!