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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4231

Mr TURNOUR (7:57 PM) —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 those 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. I welcome the members of the Baha’i community here this evening and thank them for bringing these issues to the attention of both me and the parliament.

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.

The Baha’i faith was founded over a century and half ago in Iran and has more than five million followers in more than 100,000 localities throughout the world. I am proud to say that we have got some of them in my electorate of Leichhardt. Earlier this year, I met with Dr Ramin Zadeh, a local resident of my electorate and a member of the spiritual assembly of the Baha’is in Cairns. He was very concerned about the charges facing the seven Baha’i leaders, which could potentially attract the death penalty, and I thank him for initially bringing it to my attention. He talked to me about the Baha’i faith, about the horrific treatment of many followers in Iran and about the case of the seven leaders currently detained.

For 30 years, Iranian Baha’is have faced religious persecution. Between 1978 and 1998, over 200 Baha’is were executed by Iranian authorities, and many more were imprisoned and tortured. Through the 1990s, persecutions predominantly took the form of blocking Baha’is socially and economically—for example, not permitting Baha’i youth to attend university, not extending bank loans to Baha’is and vilification of Baha’is in the state-run news media.

More recently, a number of incidents indicate that there has been a resurgence of extreme religious persecution against the Baha’is, which is clearly disturbing. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is a United Nations treaty based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is considered by many to be one of the most important human rights treaties in the world. Iran has signed and ratified this document. Article 18 of the covenant states:

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

As countries throughout the world use the covenant as a collective vision for how governments everywhere should treat their citizens, Iranian Baha’is are facing circumstances that undermine this and other human rights, even though Iran is supposed to have ratified this covenant.

There are seven Baha’i leaders presently imprisoned in Iran. They have been there for a year now. It took eight months before they were advised of their charges. They do not have access to legal representation. They have minimal contact with their loved ones. It has also been reported that people who have worked closely with the seven have had their homes raided and items confiscated and have been interrogated and even arrested. So Baha’is are being persecuted today in Iran. This motion brings that to the attention of the Committee and calls on the Iranian government to stop doing this.

I ask the Iranian authorities to release the seven Baha’i detainees and members of other religious minorities imprisoned for exercising their religious beliefs. The international community—the United Nations, numerous governments and parliaments, human rights groups and media outlets—have responded to the persecution of the Iranian Baha’i community. Today, I formally add my name to this list. The Australian government’s firm position is that the right to freedom of religion and the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and association must be respected in all countries in accordance with international human rights conventions.

We have already raised the issue of discrimination against the Baha’is at the United Nations, including in Australia’s statement to the eighth session of the Human Rights Council in 2008. We have co-sponsored a resolution on the human rights situation in Iran at the 63rd UN General Assembly in 2008. We will maintain close interest in this case and will continue to raise our concerns with the Iranian government. I have had a chance to speak to the foreign minister about this. I know that many other members would have liked to speak on this motion tonight—not enough of us could do so but I know that many others would have liked to. I commend this motion to the Committee.