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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1860

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (11:13): On 15 November I attended the official opening of the Baha'i centre of learning in Adelaide. For Adelaide's Baha'i community the opening was the culmination of a vision which began many years ago, followed by a lot of hard work in beautifully restoring a historic but neglected building and turning it into a welcoming learning, meeting and conference centre. It was not my first invitation to the Baha'i community, as I had previously attended several other Baha'i events in Adelaide.

From my interaction with Baha'is, I particularly noted their respect for all other religions and faiths. I also noted their firm belief in equality for all and their pursuit of world peace, the rule of law and the unity of religions. The Baha'i faith is built on the belief that 'the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens'. Yet in Iran where the Baha'i faith was founded and where Baha'is make up the largest non-Muslim religious minority, the Baha'i people are being imprisoned, persecuted and discriminated against for staying true to their faith.

The persecution of non-Muslims in Iran is not limited to the followers of the Baha'i faith, with a UN report earlier this year stating that in recent times over 300 Christians had been arrested and that some are still in detention. The same report states that around 110 Baha'is, including two women nursing babies, are currently detained and another 133 are awaiting summonses to serve their sentences. It also reported that seven Baha'i leaders have received prison sentences of 20 years.

The world Baha'i community claim that since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 more than 200 Baha'is have been executed or killed, hundreds have been imprisoned and tens of thousands have been deprived of jobs, pensions, businesses and educational opportunities. Holy places, shrines, cemeteries and personal possessions of Baha'is have been confiscated, vandalised or destroyed. Recently I met with members of Adelaide's Baha'i community, who added their voice to the reports coming out of Iran about the persecution of Baha'i followers. They were understandably very concerned about the treatment and fate of their families and friends in Iran.

In September this year my colleague the member for Wills attended a rally in Melbourne at the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture's Foundation House in Brunswick urging the release of 45-year-old Rozita Vasseghi who, I understand, in 2010 was sentenced to 10 years in prison. I understand that the rally, which was organised by Rozita's sister Rosa, was attended by a large crowd including many civic and religious leaders. On 24 August Baha'i Ataollah Rezvani was found shot dead in his car in the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas in what was described as a religiously motivated murder. Prior to his death, Mr Rezvani had been the target of threats and intimidation.

While I acknowledge that Australia has limited ability to influence affairs in another country, I nevertheless believe that where we are aware of injustice and suffering in the world we have an obligation to intervene. Not by the use of force but by diplomacy and through bodies such as the United Nations. I was heartened to hear that last month, through international negotiations, progress was made in limiting Iran's nuclear program for the next six months in return for the easing of some sanctions. Having constructive discussions with Iran on its nuclear program hopefully opens the way for discussions on other matters, including the protection of human rights for all law-abiding Iranian people, regardless of their faith. I bring this matter to the attention of the parliament and particularly to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs for her consideration as to how Australia may be able to assist followers of minority faiths in Iran from being discriminated against and persecuted as the Baha'i people currently are.