Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 June 2018


Iran: Human Rights

7:28 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to express my admiration and support for the thousands of Iranians who have taken to the streets over recent months to demand respect for their basic rights and their dignity as human beings. Along with Senator Williams and Senator Singh, who I understand will be making similar contributions tonight, and Senator Moore, I recently met with Iranian pro-democracy activists in Parliament House and I was very disturbed by what they had to say.

The situation in Iran today is one of sustained protests, strikes and rallies against the country's authoritarian and theocratic regime. The protests began on 28 December last year, when a small number of people in the northern city of Mashhad took to the streets to decry the dire economic circumstances that they are faced with. These protests quickly spread to over 140 towns and cities, with thousands of Iranians voicing their opposition to the oppressive, theocratic rule of the current regime.

Iran is no stranger to protest movements. As recently as 2009, the country was beset by widespread unrest as the Green Movement, which called for democratic reform, was violently suppressed by the Revolutionary Guard. So it comes as no surprise that the current round of protests has also been met by widespread arrests and violent crackdowns.

According to reports from inside Iran, at least 10,000 people have been arrested for protesting the regime. More than 50 have been killed in crackdowns, and, perhaps worst of all, there have been at least 17 people tortured to death while in custody. These are shameful acts from a barbaric regime. The fact it was expected only emphasises the tremendous bravery of the young Iranians, in particular, who are daring to oppose this violent regime.

I am sure that many Australians became aware of the protest when they saw a viral image of a young Iranian woman standing on a utility box, hair exposed, waving a hijab on a stick. This was a brave act of defiance against a law forcing women to cover their heads in public. Failure to do so is a crime punishable by a prison sentence of between 10 days and two months or a fine of between 50 and 500,000 rial. This is a policy that the Iranian government's own polling shows is opposed by 49.8 per cent of the country.

The young woman in the photo was eventually revealed to be 31-year-old Vida Movahed. Although she was arrested the authorities could not stop her act of defiance becoming an instantly recognisable symbol for the protests, with countless Iranian women repeating it across the country. A single photograph can never capture the complexities of a country's political environment, but it is hard to think of a better symbol than the bravery of this young woman. That's because the women of Iran have suffered explicit legal discrimination since Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. Women are forced to gain the permission of their husbands to gain employment and they have fewer rights than men when it comes to inheritance, divorce and custody of their children. In many cases the testimony of a woman only counts for as much as half of that of a man for certain crimes, and in some a woman's testimony is not accepted at all. This institutionalised discrimination has led to cases where women have been executed even for murdering the men who raped them.

We certainly have disagreements in this place, but I know that none of my parliamentary colleagues would ever support the arbitrary arrest and violent suppression of people who are simply exercising their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. We enjoy these freedoms because we live in a country with long-established and respected institutions like parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. Sadly, Iran does not have this same liberal democratic tradition, or, at least, not one with roots as deep as our own. However, this does not mean that the Iranian people have any less right to live in a country that respects their rights and their dignity as human beings. That's why I'm proud to show my solidarity with the people of Iran in their protests against their government. Like many, I hope for better days for the Iranian people, freed from this oppression.