House debates

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Constituency Statements


9:44 am

Photo of Maxine McKewMaxine McKew (Bennelong, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

During the last week attention has been drawn yet again to the way that Iran is positioning itself as a nuclear player. As the House is aware, another matter of grave concern is the ongoing human rights situation in that country, particularly the increased discrimination against minority groups. I particularly want to mention the seven Baha’i leaders who have been detained in Evin prison since 2008. The second session of their trial was held on Sunday this week, 7 February, before the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

The Baha’is are Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority but are not recognised by the state and do not have the right to practise their religion. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has said that the Iranian government is using its justice system as an instrument of religious persecution. Reports also state that the defendants were formally charged with espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order, the establishment of an illegal administration, sending secret documents outside the country, acting against the security of the country and something that is called ‘corruption on earth’. I am advised that the final charge under Islamic law is a crime punishable by the death sentence in Iran. Needless to say, all of these charges have been categorically denied by the defendants. It is widely believed that the seven Baha’i were detained on the sole basis of their faith. Prior to their arrest they served as an appointed ad hoc group known as the ‘friends’. Their role was to manage the minimum spiritual and material needs of Iran’s Baha’i community. That was a role that was carried out with the government’s knowledge.

I have previously met with representatives of a very active group of Baha’i in my electorate of Bennelong and I know that groups all over the country held prayers last Sunday in support of the seven detained Baha’i. Many members of the Baha’i faith in this country have friends and relatives back in Iran who have suffered. They tell terrible stories of having a knock on the door in the middle of the night and then immediate arrest and detention.

In December 2009 United Nations passed a resolution that expressed concern over the continued deterioration of human rights in Iran. I condemn in the strongest terms the arbitrary nature of the arrest of these seven Baha’i members in Iran and their long detention without access to legal counsel. I call on the Islamic Republic of Iran to recognise international standards of human rights and take their place as a responsible member of the international community.