Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 June 2018


Iran: Human Rights

7:37 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak about the huge significance of the uprising in Iran as well, along with Senator Paterson, Senator Singh and probably Senator Moore as well, which began on 28 December 2017. Millions of ordinary Iranians bravely risked their lives to join mass public protests against the repressive regime that has held power in Iran for the past 39 years. People have taken to the streets in more than 140 cities across Iran. Demonstrators chanting slogans like, 'Death to the Islamic Republic' have shown this is an uprising against the regime itself. They're sick of their wealth being looted to fund proxy wars and terrorists throughout the Middle East. Massive strikes and worker protests, huge farmer protests and open rebellions by Kurdish, Arab and Baluchi minorities continue to this day.

Much of the Western media has either failed to report the uprising at all or initially reported that the mass demonstrations were simply based on Iran's dire economic situation. The Western media doesn't seem to comprehend why 80 million beleaguered Iranian citizens could possibly rise up and demand regime change. The current mass demonstrations have shaken the dictatorship despite the deadly crackdowns, the torture, the death of at least 17 arrested protesters and the detention of over 10,000 citizens. While the protest movement has used social media to mobilise, the regime has countered with cyberwarfare.

Leading members of the regime have admitted their fear and vulnerability to regime change and have acknowledged the role and the growing support for the main democratic opposition movement, the People's Mujahedin of Iran. The clerical regime appears now to be on its last legs, and its demise may be inevitable. The people of Iran are charting the next necessary steps to restore peace, democracy, human rights and women's rights in their own country—I think we'd all support peace, democracy, women's rights and human rights—while bringing the perpetrators of crimes against humanity and terror to face justice. We should support them. It is time we woke up to the fact that, as long as the mullahs remain in power, there will be no possibility of peace. The mullahs will always be a major problem. They can never be part of the solution.

This Senate and the whole democratic world should express solidarity with the Iranian people and their resistance in their bid for democratic change. Now is the time for us to speak up. Australia should use its respected voice at the United Nations Human Rights Council and work with its allies at the UN and in other international forums to increase pressure on the Iranian regime and its leaders to release all political prisoners, abolish the oppression of women, guarantee freedom of speech and assembly and refer the government's abysmal human rights record to the UN Security Council.

This Saturday, the grand rally for Iranian democracy will take place in Paris. It will be attended by well over 100,000 people, including many hundreds of elected MPs and political dignitaries from Europe, North America and around the world. I wish them well. Our peace, our democracy and our freedom of speech are things that we probably take for granted in Australia. Come election time, probably all of us in this chamber are handing out 'how to votes'. When people walk up and say, 'Oh, I've got to vote again,' I say, 'Don't complain about it; many countries never get the opportunity.' Let's hope that they can get the opportunity for democratic change in Iran and rights are returned to women, who deserve exactly that—human rights. I wish them well in their protest and I hope there's a change very soon.

7:41 pm

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to join with Senators Williams, Paterson and Moore to give my support to the grand rally for Iranian democracy, which will take place in Paris, France, this Saturday, and to stand in solidarity with tens of thousands of people, including politicians from all over the world, who will converge on Paris to unite in their resolve for a free and democratic Iran. This resistance comes on the back of decades of human rights violations. Since 1981 more than 120,000 civilians have been arrested, tortured and executed by the clerical regime, including the murder of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. The United Nations has passed resolutions condemning Iran's human rights abuses on some 64 occasions. The UN has also reported that Iran leads the world in executions per capita.

I want to highlight, in particular, the determination of Iranian women who have been arrested and imprisoned for their activism in support of basic human rights. For almost four decades, women of Iran have protested against laws making the wearing of the hijab compulsory, but in the last six months the world has witnessed an upsurge in these protests. Courageous women, known as the Girls of Revolution Street, in Tehran are removing their hijab in public and holding it up on a stick as a peace flag. Women across the country are wearing white hijabs or other white clothing on Wednesdays as part of the 'White Wednesday' campaign. Social surveys show that most of Iran's population oppose the mandatory wearing of the hijab for women. Yet such a simple action is one that takes incredible bravery in the country of Iran. International media has reported that in February alone police arrested 29 women in Tehran for participating in these protests. One woman, 31-year-old Vidal Movahed, was photographed protesting in December last year. The photo went viral. She was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison. These protests are a small thread in a tapestry of rising unrest across Iran against the breaches of human rights and lack of freedom for Iranian people that has gone on for far too long.

In the last six months there have been protests in 140 cities across the country, while, in response, some 8,000 people have been detained and more than 50 protesters have been killed on the streets or in custody. Just a week ago, prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has defended some of the detained women, was arrested in her home and told she will be imprisoned for the next five years. Amnesty International has condemned her arrest as 'the latest example of the Iranian authorities' vindictive attempts to stop her from carrying out her important work as a lawyer'. Nasrin has now paid the price of losing her freedom for doing her job defending citizens' rights and protecting human rights. Yet it is not the first time Nasrin has been jailed for her activism. In 2010 she was imprisoned for three years for her own work that included representing political prisoners and young people who had been sentenced to death. Despite that, she has continued her courageous fight for justice and for human rights. At this time of such unrest in Iran I think it is important that the international community demands the immediate release of Nasrin.

I also wish to condemn the recent execution of Mohammad Salas, an elder of the Iranian dervish community. He was executed for political reasons. I urge the Iranian government to stop these executions and release all the political prisoners, of whom 30 per cent are women. I also urge them to abolish the oppression of women, including the compulsory wearing of the hijab. Iranian people are calling for greater democracy and for fundamental human rights to be respected. Australians should stand with them. We should use our voice at the table of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which we now sit on, and we should join with allies at the UN to do so. We in this parliament, in this Senate, are certainly sharing our voice, on both sides of politics, to show that we stand with the Iranian people for a free and democratic Iran when we stand for their fundamental human rights.