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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 943

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (21:21): I strongly support the motion moved by the member for Fremantle. When I was one of Australia's parliamentary delegates to the United Nations General Assembly late last year, I heard a representative of the Iranian government respond to criticism of its treatment of the Baha'i' by claiming that the Baha'i organisation in Iran was political rather than religious in character, that it was illegal, and that its organisation had been 'closed'.

This quite blood-curdling response clearly displays a contempt for the basic concepts of freedom of speech and expression, including freedom of religious expression. In countries such as Australia religious minorities enjoy a very high degree of freedom of religious expression and observance. As far as I am concerned, it is absolutely unacceptable for members of those religions to deny the same freedoms to religious minorities in other countries, including Iran. Religious minorities who enjoy freedom of religious expression in Australia, the US, the UK, Japan, Europe et cetera should provide the same freedom of religious expression in countries in which they are not a minority.

In light of the upcoming Iranian presidential elections, scheduled for 12 March, Iranian bloggers and media workers are once again the target of crackdowns and arrests by Iranian authorities. This may mean we will see a repeat of the unrest during the aftermath of the previous fraudulent presidential elections. According to Amnesty International:

… Iranian authorities are once again choosing to restrict freedom of expression and association in an apparent attempt to disrupt public discourse and potential criticism of the authorities’ record in various spheres including human rights and economic performance in advance of the start of the election campaign.

Amnesty's report, titled Iran: Wave of arrests in run up to parliamentary elections, lists the names of individuals who have been incarcerated for convictions such as 'acting against national security', 'spreading propaganda against the system' and criticising the Iranian regime.

Such arrests are by no means without precedent. Students, women and political activists are regularly the target of arrests and are subject to gang rape and both physical and psychological torture during their imprisonment. According to Ahmed Shaheed, the new UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, Iranian authorities have secretly executed hundreds of prisoners. According to Amnesty International, Iran has the world's highest per capita execution rate. In the year 2011, the Iranian regime executed 488 people for drug related offences compared to 2009 and 2010 where 172 and 166 executions were recorded respectively.

Social freedoms are restricted. According to Iran's Islamic laws, men and women are not permitted to interact unless they are related. If a man and a woman are walking in public and are approached by the morality police, they must justify their relationship to the authorities, who may or may not be satisfied with their response. Seventy per cent of Iran's 70 million population is under the age of 35. It is commonplace for the morality police to interrogate the youth on their choice of hairstyle and clothing as well as their choice in music.

I believe we should be more supportive of the Iranian opposition. I am mystified as to why we continue to list Iranian opposition groups the PMOI and the MEK as terrorist groups. It is a free gift from us to the Iranian regime. Do we get anything back from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in return? No. He is as outrageous as ever.

While I am on this topic, it is important that the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is able to resettle the residents of Camp Ashraf in democratic countries rather than them being left to the tender mercies of either the Iraqi or Iranian governments. Neither of those governments is trustworthy in relation to this matter and the UN and the nations of the world have an obligation to ensure there is no more violence here.

Finally, let me praise and salute the courage of the Iranian people who resist their violent leaders. I marvel at the courage, the gutsiness, of those Iranian people who refuse to submit and who constantly find ways to defy the regime, despite the threats to their personal safety.