Australian Parliament calls for release of Baha'is

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The Australian Parliament has called upon Iran to release without delay seven Baha’i leaders who have been imprisoned for more than a year.

Six Members of Parliament from both major parties spoke in support of a notice of motion in the House of Representatives.

The motion notes with “serious concern” that the detained Baha’is have had no access to legal representation and have not been subject to due legal process.

It expresses concern about charges of spying, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic Republic and that these could attract the death penalty.

The Parliament called upon Iran to respect rights to freedom of religion and the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and association in accordance with international human rights conventions.

The MP who introduced the motion, the member for Leichhardt, Mr Jim Turnour, called on Iran to drop the charges against the seven Baha’is.

“The Australian Government is concerned that these charges are part of a pattern of official discrimination against members of the Baha’i Faith in Iran,” Mr Turnour said.

“More recently, a number of incidents indicate that there has been a resurgence of extreme religious persecution against the Baha’is, which is clearly disturbing,” he said.

“We will maintain close interest in this case and will continue to raise our concern with the Iranian Government,” Mr Turnour said.

The member for Isaacs, Mr Mark Dreyfus, said that to be a Baha’i in Iran is “to live with the fear of state sanctioned abuse hanging over your family and your community”.

Mr Dreyfus referred to the “long catalogue of oppression and mistreatment” stretching back years and including the abduction of other Baha’i leaders and the hanging of 10 Baha’i women, the youngest 17 years old.

“All the evidence suggests that the repression of the Baha’i emanates from the highest Iranian authorities,” said Mr Dreyfus, who referred to an official statement saying that a plan must be devised “to confront and destroy their cultural roots outside Iran.”

“Dehumanising any group of people and denying them rights because of their beliefs or race or religion has all too often been the first step towards physical attacks on or the murder of people in that group,” he said.

“In the face of dawn raids on their homes, the desecration of their cemeteries with bulldozers, the vilification of Baha’i children in their classrooms, the disbarring of Baha’is from designated professions and threats against Muslims who associate with Baha’is, the community has shown substantial bravery.”

The member for Cowan, Mr Luke Simpkins, said the charges had no validity and were inconsistent with Baha’i teachings.

Mr Simpkins said that the most recent charge of ‘spreading corruption in the world’ “has nothing to do with offences, and everything to do with political control and religious persecution.” He called for the Baha’is to be “released immediately.”

“The Iranian government should also restore the rights of Baha’is and withdraw discrimination and religious intolerance towards the Baha’is-that should happen now,” Mr Simpkins said.

The member for Hindmarsh, Mr Steve Georganas, said he was very proud that there were Baha’is in his electorate.

He said that on 17 April 2009 the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Stephen Smith, conveyed the Australian Government’s serious concerns about the imprisoned Baha’is directly to the Iranian foreign minister.

“Over the past year the Australian Government has regularly raised its concerns about the seven Baha’i detainees with the Iranian authorities and will continue to do so,” Mr Georganas said.

“Others who have spoken out this year in condemnation of the actions of the Iranian authorities against the Baha’is include the European Union and the governments of Great Britain and the United States, as well as many parliamentarians in Brazil, Canada and Germany,” he said.

“I call on the Government of Iran to release the seven Baha’i detainees without a single minute of delay.”

The Member for O’Connor, Mr Wilson Tuckey, said he had found Baha’is to be people of peace and good will. The charge of spying was “ridiculous”.

“The Baha’i just say, ‘Can we please have the freedom to act in accordance with our faith?’, ” Mr Tuckey said.

“This is an important motion which, above all else, deals with religious freedom and the prevention of persecution, particularly on religious grounds,” Mr Tuckey said.

The member for Longman, Mr Jon Sullivan, said the seven imprisoned Baha’is have relatives in Australia and “it is important that we as Australians support our fellow Australians of the Baha’i Faith”.

“As has been said, the Baha’i people are a wonderful, brave, peace-loving people,” Mr Sullivan said.

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