Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12 December 2000.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party 12:00, 12 December 2000

When he last raised the case of the Iranian Jews imprisoned for espionage with the Iranian ambassador. [141961]

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Labour, Neath

We and our European Union partners have taken every appropriate opportunity to raise our concerns about the unsatisfactory nature of the case, which I last raised with the Iranian ambassador when I met him on 19 October. While noting the reductions in sentence of between two and six years on appeal, we hope that the Iranian judiciary will now show clemency.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply and for his hard work on this issue. Does he recall that those people have been in prison since March last year on what most, if not all, independent observers recognise were trumped-up charges, and that the only reason for their imprisonment is that they are Jewish? Does he also recall the series of assurances we had from representatives of the Iranian authorities, who said that there would be a fair and open trail? In fact, there was little more than a show trial. Will he continue to press directly and through our allies for the sentences to be commuted and for the early release of those innocent people?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Labour, Neath

I acknowledge my hon. Friend's interest in this case. That is right and proper, because it has caused widespread distress among his constituents and throughout Britain. This case does Iran no credit. The sooner the judiciary is able to review the situation and move towards clemency, the better for everyone concerned. The persecution of Jews in Iran, of which this case is an example—although some Muslims were also prosecuted—is something that Iran must put behind it as it moves into the international family of nations.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

What intelligence can the Minister offer the House about the treatment of those prisoners while they are incarcerated? Does he accept that in calling for justice and clemency, he is much strengthened by the knowledge that public opinion in Iran strongly favours reform of that country's political system?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Labour, Neath

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's point, because it highlights one of the central problems for progress on this matter. The Government have sought to engage constructively with the Government of President Khatami, who are reforming Iran with the mass support of the people. The Iranian Government are facing resistance not least among the judiciary, which is under the control of reactionary forces. These persecuted Jewish residents of Iran have found themselves stuck in the middle. That has prevented a satisfactory resolution to the problem, but we are still hopeful that the Iranian Government will understand international concern and act accordingly.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

It is extremely helpful to have a clear statement from the Minister, and we welcome his constant support. Does he accept that only pressure will make it clear to the Iranian authorities that if they want to be accepted internationally, this is not the way to go, and that the sooner these people are either tried honestly and openly or released the better it will be for the Iranian people?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Labour, Neath

I hope that the Iranian ambassador, with whom I have discussed this case recently, listens to my hon. Friend's point. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has consistently raised the issue at the highest level, as I have. It is in Iran's interest, and certainly in the Iranian Government's interest, for clemency to be shown in this case, which is an appalling stain on Iran's recent record at a time when much progress is being made that we should support.