Panel explores crisis of human rights in Iran

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833_01 [BWNS 17 June 2011] LONDON — Iran’s human rights record has come under scrutiny at a seminar held in the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament.

The panel discussion – which included members of Parliament, experts and human rights activists – was co-hosted by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Friends of the Baha’is, along with human rights groups United4Iran and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

“It is no exaggeration that the human rights situation in Iran is in crisis,” said Nazila Ghanea, a lecturer at the University of Oxford and an editor of the Journal of Religion & Human Rights.

Dr. Ghanea charged the Iranian government with being “the main engine of intolerance, hate and persecution,” pointing out that the systematic campaign of religious persecution against Baha’is, and the harassment, imprisonment and torture faced by all minorities or vulnerable individuals, are “instigated and perpetuated” by the authorities.

The government is “continually sending memoranda, laws, instructions and threats to civil servants, to universities, to teachers, to private businesses, instructing them to get rid of staff, students, and other individuals, who belong to ‘deviant’ groups, who are Baha’is, or who are politically active – who ask the wrong questions,” said Dr. Ghanea.

833_02 Children are humiliated and bullied in schools, she added, “not by other children, but under instruction of government authorities and by their teachers.”

Dr. Ghanea noted that this repression is now targeting a “wider and wider profile of people who are allegedly dissidents.” In its prejudice against nearly the entire population, she said, “the Iranian regime had failed…to recognise the rich diversity of Iranian civilisation.”

Women’s rights activist and lawyer Shadi Sadr, who was imprisoned in Iran, spoke of the grievous situation of women prisoners.

They are “deprived of many rights that are given to them…in accordance with international law…and the laws of Iran,” she said.

Ms. Sadr highlighted the extreme violence faced by women prisoners during interrogation which, through the fear it causes, inhibits the activism of women across the country.

Recent years have also witnessed increased persecution against Christians in Iran.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Khataza Gondwe referred to the Iranian authorities’ practice of using hate speech against minorities, citing a “prolific outpouring of inflammatory rhetoric” against the Christian community. According to Dr Gonwe, the rhetoric claims that Christians had “inserted themselves into Islam like a parasite,” and were part of “perverted cults” and “foreign conspiracies.”

Recalling the warmth and hospitality of ordinary Iranians he met during his visits to the country, Mike Gapes MP – a former member of the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee – contrasted the behaviour of the Iranian government in the interests of “security” with a “young, dynamic, vibrant society” that wants to “engage with the world.”

Only when the Iranian government recognises all of its ethnic and religious groups, and accords them equal rights, will Iran’s security be assured, said Mr. Gapes.

“The biggest security is human security,” he said.

Held on Wednesday 15 June, the seminar was the latest in a range of activities taking place around the world to mark the third anniversary of the arrest of Iran’s seven Baha’i leaders. They were detained on baseless charges, convicted without evidence and in violation of due process, and are each serving 20-year jail sentences.

A message sent to the seminar from leading human rights barrister, Cherie Blair QC, said Iran’s imprisonment of the seven “shames the country’s leaders.” Mrs. Blair called for the Iranian authorities to “free the Baha’i leaders and comply with their commitment to religious freedom.”

Anglo-Iranian actor and comedian Omid Djalili – who was also on the panel – said that the seven were “holding on to their personalities and their identities” by staying true to their principles and faith. Mr. Djalili also praised the fortitude and perseverance of the Iranian Baha’i community as a whole.

Kishan Manocha, Director of the Office of Public Affairs of the UK Baha’i community, concluded that the seminar “underlines the extent of the human rights crisis in Iran, and it reminds us that not only Baha’is but other religious minorities, women, journalists and others are subject to ongoing human rights violations.”

Special Report – “The Trial of the Seven Baha’i Leaders”

The Baha’i World News Service has published a Special Report which includes articles and background information about the seven Iranian Baha’i leaders – their lives, their imprisonment, trial and sentencing – and the allegations made against them. It also offers further resources about the persecution of Iran’s Baha’i community.

The International Reaction page of the Baha’i World News service is regularly updated with responses from governments, nongovernmental organizations, and prominent individuals. TheMedia Reports page presents a digest of media coverage from around the world.

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