By political reporter Dan Conifer
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has vowed to raise Iran’s human rights record in meetings with her Iranian counterpart in Canberra this week.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will meet with Ms Bishop, Trade Minister Steve Ciobo and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, and hopes to meet Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Australia this week hopes to strike a deal with Iran to return thousands of failed asylum seekers, and is looking to improve access for Australian businesses, students and tourists to the nation of more than 75 million people.
But human rights, including the persecution of minority groups, will also be on the agenda.
“The Australian Government has consistently urged Iran to progress human rights, both bilaterally and in relevant UN bodies,” Ms Bishop told ABC News.
“I will again raise Iran’s record on human rights, including the treatment of Baha’i communities, when I meet Dr Zarif this week, as I did during my visit to Tehran in April 2015.”
The Baha’i faith was established in Iran in the 1800s and its followers have been persecuted for decades in the Islamic nation.
Ms Bishop’s comments follow calls from Australia’s Baha’i community to raise the plight with Dr Zarif, including the case of seven leaders imprisoned in Iran for 20 years for alleged espionage and “insulting religious sanctities”.
“Australian officials have higher level access to Iranian officials as has been the case in the past and as more spaces open up for exchange between the countries that provides more opportunities for these issues to be raised and discussed,” Australian Baha’i community spokeswoman Natalie Mobini said.
“Australia is a leader in the human rights community internationally and I think we need to maintain our reputation for that,” Dr Mobini said.
Hundreds of Baha’is have been imprisoned and executed, and members of the faith are discriminated against, including being denied access to higher education.
Dr Zarif’s visit follows the country agreeing to curb its nuclear activities in return for sanctions being lifted, and comes after Ms Bishop’s trip to Tehran last year.
“The Foreign Minister’s visit to Australia provides an opportunity for me to raise my concerns directly,” Ms Bishop said.
“The Government has always been aware and realistic in our approach towards Iran. We pursue Australia’s interests. Where we do not agree with Iran we register our views frankly and this will continue.”
Ms Bishop hopes to strike a deal with her counterpart to send more than 8,000 failed asylum seekers back to the country, which does not accept involuntary returns, including a guarantee those returned would not be persecuted or punished.
Iran refuses to take back those who are not willing to return, but it is understood negotiations with Australia on the issue are well-advanced.
Dr Zarif will also deliver a public address at the Australian National University on Tuesday.
Comment was sought from Iran’s embassy in Australia.