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Thursday, 13 October 2011
Page: 11912


Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (10:51): On Saturday, 8 October the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Leymah Gbowee, a key organiser of a non-violent campaign in Liberia; President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, the first woman to be elected president in modern Africa; and Tawakkul Karman, of Yemen, a journalist and pro-democracy campaigner. These three women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their activism in fighting for women's rights and political rights in Africa and the Middle East.

In a week when we should have been celebrating these three incredibly brave women and, indeed, all women and all people who have fought and who continue to fight for democratic rights we have been shocked by reports that an Iranian actress Marzieh Vafamehr has been sentenced to jail and 90 lashes for being in a film critical of Iran. Marzieh Vafamehr appeared in the 2009 Australian film My Tehran for Sale, which, ironically, is about an actress whose work is banned.

And if we thought that lashing was uncharacteristic of the treatment carried out in Iran, a political science student Payman Aref was jailed for a year by the Iranian regime and, just before he left jail he was, shockingly, administered 74 lashes for criticising President Ahmadenijad. You can see the footage on YouTube.

The Iranian government's degrading and abhorrent treatment of Ms Vafamehr and many more like her, seeking to voice their own views, is typical of the thuggish behaviour of the Iranian regime. It is an ugly regime. Thousands of people are executed regularly. Gay people are hung in public squares by cranes. Women and under-age people, 16-year-olds, are executed, despite Iranian law expressly forbidding this.

The attack on Ms Vafamehr's rights follows two years of oppression placed on journalists, bloggers, filmmakers and opposition party supporters since the 2009 Green Revolution protests in response to the 'stolen' Iranian election that year. In June 2009, more than 6,000 people were arrested by Iranian security forces for demonstrating against the 'stolen' election results. We all remember the grainy mobile phone footage of Iranian protestor Neda Agha Soltan, who was stabbed in the back by the regime's Basij street thugs for participating in the protests against the 'stolen' election. The US has recently voiced concern at the continued repression of the Iranian people. US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, said on 30 September:

The United States is deeply concerned by reports of the Iranian government's continued repression of its people. Despite statements from Iran's Supreme Leader ... claiming support for the rights and freedoms of Iranian citizens ... the government continues its crackdown on all forms of dissent, belief, and assembly.

Of course, we all know about the terrible persecution of the leaders and members of the very gentle Baha'i religion in Iran. It is quite shocking. Hillary Clinton further said:

Iran's government continues to arrest journalists and filmmakers. They are restricting access to information by jamming incoming satellite broadcasts ...

The power of the Iranian regime is garnered not only through stifling opposition at home but through stifling opposition in countries where they have a great influence. We saw their outrageous behaviour in the last couple of days in Washington and, hopefully, it will not become an international crisis that spins out of control.

It has been six months since more than 3,000 people were killed in nearby Syria, which is very strongly supported by the Iranian regime. Iran has senior commanders Brigadier General Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam, the head of Iranian security forces, and his deputy, Ahmadreza Radan, in Syria, helping with the repression of those people. But, like Ms Vafamehr, the women of Syria are standing up to the regime and are illuminating the atrocities.

Razan Zaitouneh, from Syria, won the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya Award, which is given to a woman human rights defender standing up for victims in a conflict zone. Ms Zaitouneh, a lawyer and journalist, won the award for her extraordinary contribution to human rights over the past decade, and particularly for her role in the anti-government movement in Syria since protests began in March this year in Daraa.

The decision of Russia and China, as expressed by their foreign ministers, to veto the United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that the Syrian authorities cease their human rights violations is a terrible blow to those who believe that, through peaceful action, we can stop these kinds of atrocities. Like Yelena Bonner and Aung San Suu Kyi, these women's careers should be celebrated, as should Ms Zaitouneh's. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs said, Australia stands with the Syrian people at this grave moment, as we do with the people of Iran. (Time expired)