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Refugee advocate questions police motives for raids on homes of Iranians.

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Wednesday 4 June 2003

Refugee advocate questions police motives for raids on homes of Iranians


MARK COLVIN: America says Iran is now part of the axis of evil today, Britai n's envoy in Baghdad has said Iran's ayatollahs are secretly backing religious militias in post-war Iraq.  


So why is Australia, a close ally of America and Britain, raiding the homes of people who oppose Iran's theocratic dictatorship? 


Refugee advocacy groups are asking questions about yesterday's raids on the homes of more than 29 Iranian Australians. They're allegedly connected to the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or the MEK. It's alleged to have members living in Australia and raising money on behalf of the group in Iran. But no arrests have been made, and no charges laid. 


The raids followed a visit by the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to Tehran late last month. 


As Alison Caldwell reports. 


ALISON CALDWELL: According to the Australian Federal Police, yesterday's raids were part of an ongoing investigation which has been underway since August last year. An AFP spokesman told the PM program, the case is being handled by the counter-terrorism financial investigation team. And that's about all that's being said by the AFP about the matter today. 


What we do know is early yesterday morning, plain clothes police armed with search warrants swooped on the homes of more than 29 Iranian Australians. 


Jalal Hosseini's Sydney home was raided at 5am. 


JALAL HOSSEINI: Actually, they gave me the search warrant and even the search warrant doesn't have any signature on it. 


ALISON CALDWELL: Jalal Hosseini was asked if he was a member of the Iraqi opposition group, the MEK, and if he'd been involved in any fundraising activities on behalf of the group. 


JALAL HOSSEINI: Even, yeah, they did. They didn't know anything about you know, what's MEK or others, like National Council of Resistance, they didn't know anything about it. 


ALISON CALDWELL: Jalal Hosseini says he told police while he supports the MEK, he hasn't raised money on it's behalf. According to at least one news report, the search warrants also sought information on other Iranian organisations including Iranian refugee associations based in Australia. 


While the AFP says the raids were part of an ongoing investigation, some are questioning the timing of those raids. 


Bruce Haigh is a former member of the refugee review tribunal and is now with the group Rural Australians for Refugees. 


BRUCE HAIGH: We know that the Department of Immigration are moving to send back to Iran 270-plus Iranians that have been refused refugee status in Australia. 


We know also that there was an Iranian delegation in Australia recently, and they met with a number of ministers, including Ruddock and Downer, and they met with some industry heads, organisations and some academic institutions. We also know that Downer himself was in Tehran. 


ALISON CALDWELL: The Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Iranian Government. 


Bruce Haigh believes that agreement may have something to do with the raids. 


BRUCE HAIGH: One of the conditions may be that the Iranians have asked the Australian authorities to act against this group, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least, given the track record of the Department of Immigration and also the AFP, in terms of their activities over border protection. 


ALISON CALDWELL: A spokesman for the Immigration Minister rejected that allegation. He says the memorandum of understanding does not refer to members of the MEK. 


Another possible reason for the raids could be explained by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It listed the MEK as a terrorist organisation in December 2001, and pledged to freeze group's assets. It was a move welcomed at the time by the Iranian Government. 


Professor Amin Saikal is with the centre for Middle Eastern studies at the Australian National University. 


AMIN SAIKAL: The Iranian Government has also been interested in doing everything possible to limit the operations of this group abroad and they have of course in the past told the Australian Government to exert control over the activities of this group, but whether there has been a deal between Australia and Iran, I'm not personally aware of that. 


ALISON CALDWELL: Australia has strong ties with the Iranian Government, despite the country being named by US President George Bush as part of the so called 'axis of evil'. 


Professor Amin Saikal. 


AMIN SAIKAL: Despite the fact that Iran has been functioning under stringent American sanctions, Australia has managed to develop its political and economic and trade ties with Iran. 


I think that today Iran is one of Australia's major trading partners in the region and as I understand Australia's trade with Iran comes close to a billion dollars a year and it is mainly in favour of Australia. 


MARK COLVIN: Professor Amin Saikal from the Australian National University, ending that report from Alison Caldwell. And late this evening a spokesman for the Foreign Minister said that on Mr Downer's visit to Tehran there had been no discussion on the Mujahedin-e Khalq in Australia.