Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 10 May 1973
Page: 2039

Mr JAMES (Hunter) - First and foremost, Mr Speaker, I want to protest at the difficulty Government back benchers have in getting an opportunity io speak in this Parliament. I rose today on at least 6 occasions. I have had the greatest respect and admiration for you, Mr Speaker, and I will continue to try to hold it, but 1 was told after the debate on the controversial abortion question that 1 had no chance of getting the call because 'James might rock the boat'. If thai is the situation in this Parliament, my retiring nature has been strained so far that it will not be prepared to put up with the situation any longer. I was told this evening by you. Mr Speaker, that I would be the first speaker on the adjournment debate.

Mr SPEAKER - No, you were not.

Mr JAMES - I will not waste any more time because there is an important issue that I want to raise, but 1 will not be suppressed any longer. I want to stress in this Parliament tonight a matter which I believe will be of deep interest to the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner). I am glad that he is in the House. Last year he led a successful delegation of members of this Parliament to Malawi to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference. I wish to raise the matter of religious persecution which unfortunately is occurring at the moment in Malawi, a fellow Commonwealth country which to all intents and purposes was the perfect host to all delegates from the Commonwealth last year. Those people being persecuted for their beliefs are the 23,000 Jehovah's Witnesses who used to live peacefully and worship there. Briefly, their persecution arises from their religious beliefs which prevent them from any political involvement wherever they live. Jehovah's Witnesses are taught to respect and observe the law of the country in which they reside as long as those laws are not contrary to their divine law.

In Malawi the Government places strong pressure on people to purchase political membership cards. I heard rumours of this whilst I was in Malawi but most people were afraid to speak about it. The Jehovah's Witnesses conscientiously feel that that is contrary to the words found in the Bible in the Book of John, chapter 17, verse 16, which states: They are no part of this world, just as I am no part of the world'. Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses on a national scale in Malawi began in 1967. Many witnesses were then beaten, some were murdered, and their homes and places of worship were looted and destroyed.

Mr Martin - .Disgraceful.

Mr JAMES - I believe that the honourable member is sincere in his interjection. I will insist that he take the matter further and write to the appropriate body. I have no doubt he will do that.

Mr Martin - I certainly will.

Mr JAMES - Thank you. The Christian activity of the Jehovah's Witnesses, including, the peaceful meeting to study the Bible, was banned, as was all their literature. The persecution against the Jehovah's Witnesses has even been put into the official Congress Party's policy. As formulated in December 1972 the Party platform said that certain fanatical' religious sects which operate like the banned Jehovah's Witnesses hampered both the social and the economic development of the country. It went on to order the instant dismissal of any sect member, the closing of any business operated by a member, dismissal from the Government service and discouragement of members forming a business activity and it ordered that members living in villages should be chased away from them

Last year, in 1972, two or three months before the Australian delegation arrived in Malawi for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference, another wave of persecution broke out, and is still continuing on a much worse scale than in 1967. The 'British Financial Times', last October said:

The purge of Jehovah's Witnesses has unsettled the country more than any other post-independence event. Action against the Christian Sectarians followed a resolution passed at the Annual Convention of the

Malawi Congress Party to deprive Witnesses of their livelihood and have them 'chased away' from their villages unless they joined the Party.

After the savage attacks on their homes and places of worship, and the physical violence against them, many Jehovah's Witnesses fled the country and sought refuge in neighbouring Zambia. Here 19,000 refugees were placed in a refugee camp near the border of the 2 countries. The Zambian authorities did not want to deal with these unwanted visitors and the Jehovah's Witnesses refugees were placed under security guards and only a few shipments of much needed food, medical supplies, bedding and so on, were allowed in. Due to this inhumane treatment it was estimated that about 350 Jehovah's Witnesses died. But worse was to come for the remaining Jehovah's Witness refugees.

Zambia authorities told the Witnesses in December, only a few months later, that they had decided to ship the refugees back to Malawi. They did not tell the refugees this but they were told they would be taken to another camp in Zambia. Well, honourable members can guess what happened when the Jehovah's Witness refugees were sent back to the country from which they had recently fled. The Government's attitude towards them had not changed and the persecution was even worse when the refugees returned. Their leading Jehovah's Witnesses were put into jail straight away. The Malawi officials repeated their order to the Witnesses to buy the political party membership cards back in their villages. The Witnesses again refused to buy the cards and were savagely beaten for their pains. Women were stripped, beaten and often raped. For the foul gruesome details honourable members can refer to 2 copies of the Jehovah's Witnesses publication 'Awake' for 8th December 1972 and April of this year. The Witnesses again had to flee their villages and hide in the bush to avoid torture and possible death.

The situation was not much better for the Jehovah's Witnesses who fled to nearby Mozambique. But at least they were allowed to stay in a confined area and allowed to clear land and plant crops. Jehovah's Witnesses have been persecuted in many countries for their beliefs. In Spain they are under constant attack for their conscientious belief against serving in military forces, and in other countries their faith has been seen as disruptive to national unity. The Jehovah's

Witnesses ask - so should we - that the Malawi Government grant them the provisions set forth in the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi. That document, in it's first chapter states:

(iii)   The Government and the people of Malawi shall continue to recognise the sanctity of the personal liberties enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and of Adherence to the Law of Nations.

(iv)   No person should be deprived of his property, without payment of fair compensation, and only where the public interest so requires.

(v)   All persons regardless of colour, race or creed should enjoy equal rights and freedom.

These rights have been ignored for Jehovah's Witnesses in Malawi. The Jehovah's Witnesses are citizens of Malawi and should not be persecuted for their religious beliefs. I hope other honourable members will support my call for religious freedom in Malawi. I have at least one strong supporter who does not hide the fact that he is a Roman Catholic and who will strongly support me in this protest against the persecution of these people in a Commonwealth nation. I hope that our delegates to the next Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference will make this an issue. After all, we have taken economic sanctions against Rhodesia and South Africa for what 1 believe is something less serious than the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses that is going on today in Malawi which is a Commonwealth country.

Mr SPEAKER - First of all 1 would like to rectify-

Mr James - 1 know that you will. You are a man of your word.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Hunter will cease interjecting. I would like to rectify a misunderstanding. It is said that today when the honourable member for Hunter wrote his name on the list of honourable members who wished to speak in the adjournment debate I said to him that his was the first name on the list. But, of course, it has always been protocol for a member of the Opposition to lead off in the adjournment debate as is the practice at question time. I can assure the honourable member that 1 did not tell him that he would be the first speaker. If I did, it was a complete misunderstanding. Without going into the details of the debate that took place today on the Medical Practice Clarification Bill I pointed out that about 20 honourable members on each side would have liked to have spoken.

Mr Giles - Only we were gagged.

Mr SPEAKER - That is not the point.

Mr James - I was told I had no chance, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I did not tell you that. I think all honourable members will agree that I gave every possible avenue of thought to this and a fair hearing to honourable members. The right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) a former Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) a former Prime Minister

Mr James - They have preference over back benchers?

Mr SPEAKER - No, they did not get the call. That is what 1 am trying to point out.

Suggest corrections