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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4235


Mr DREYFUS (8:17 PM) —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 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.

All the evidence suggests that the repression of the Baha’i emanates from the highest Iranian authorities. In 1991, an ominous memorandum on the ‘Baha’i question’ issued by the office of Ayatollah Khomeini detailed a systematic effort to expunge all trace of the Baha’i people from the cultural fabric of Iran. Children who identified themselves as Baha’i were not allowed to be enrolled in schools; all Baha’i were to be expelled from universities. This memorandum on the Baha’i, issued by the office of Ayatollah Khomeini, also included the following statement:

A plan must be devised to confront and destroy their cultural roots outside Iran.

In 2005 another letter from the Chairman of the Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces in Iran was sent to a number of governmental agencies, including the Revolutionary Guard, the armed forces and the police, ordering those agencies to identify adherents of the Baha’i faith and ‘monitor’ their activities. This is the sort of behaviour we have seen from totalitarian regimes before, and we must recognise it for what it is. The classification of minorities in this way has been the awful precursor to ethnic and cultural cleansing in the past across the world. Dehumanising any group of people and denying them rights because of their beliefs or race or religion has all too often been the first step towards physical attacks on or the murder of people in that group.

Amid this ongoing oppression, the 350,000-strong Baha’i community in Iran survives. In the face of dawn raids on their homes, the desecration of their cemeteries with bulldozers, the vilification of Baha’i children in their classrooms, the disbarring of Baha’i from designated professions and threats against Muslims who associate with Baha’i, the community has shown substantial bravery. There is no doubt that the treatment of the Baha’i community is impermissible and unacceptable by all known standards of human rights. I should mention, too, that three of the seven Baha’i leaders arrested recently have close relatives in Australia. I extend my support to all the detained Baha’i leaders and their families. (Time expired)