The world's attention is focused on Iran's nuclear ambitions and the danger that that undoubtedly poses for the region. However, there is a long-running cause of concern that should not be allowed to escape the spotlight: Iran's abysmal record on human rights. Iran's abuse of human rights has been condemned by the United Nations, the European Union, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In this short debate, I shall focus on limited areas of persecution, but it is important to appreciate the context in which the abuses that I shall detail take place.
The systematic suppression of dissent in Iran permeates the whole of Iranian society. The abuses are not random. They are organised by the Government or by what Iranians call parallel institutions, such as the intelligence service and paramilitary groups. President Ahmadinejad's Cabinet is dominated by former members of the intelligence and security services, some of whom are allegedly implicated in serious violations, including the assassination of dissident intellectuals.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the deterioration of freedom of expression and the routine use of arbitrary arrest, torture and solitary confinement. Tehran's public prosecutor, Saeed Mortzavi, has been implicated in major violations, including the unresolved death in custody of the Iranian-Canadian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi in June 2003, yet no proper investigation has taken place.
Executions, including those of juveniles, continue after highly questionable judicial processes. Amnesty International reports that in the past year at least 94 people have been executed, including at least eight who were under 18.
At the end of May 2006, 500 armed riot police stormed into Tehran university campus following a student protest after a purge of the university's academic faculty. Live bullets were fired, people were injured and arrests were made. At the end of May, no further information was available about the fate of the arrested students.
A systematic purge of the media in 2000 closed newspapers and imprisoned journalists. In 2005, the Iranian Government turned their attention to targeting websites and internet journalists. Those who were arrested were sent to secret detention centres. In February 2005, a court in the province of Gilan sentenced Arash Sigarchi to 14 years imprisonment for online writing.
Those attacks on the media send out a clear message. The result is that where the media is not shut down, there is self-censorship. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report that independent harassment of human rights organisations and lawyers continues. The prominent activist and Nobel peace prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, was held in jail in January 2005 and released only after an international outcry. Akbar Ganj, the investigative journalist who exposed the role of high-ranking officials in the murder of writers and intellectuals in 1998, remains in prison. Political executions take place, and in May concern was expressed about the imminent execution of Valiolla Feyz Mahdavi, a 28-year-old member of Iran's main opposition party.
That systematic oppression has had profound consequences. It has resulted in what Human Rights Watch calls
"an atmosphere of impunity in which oppression thrives".
It means that people are silenced because they fear speaking out and there are fewer voices to speak out about what is wrong, so abuses are not fully documented. It is against that background that I draw attention to particular concern about two minority communities in Iran.
The Iranian Baha'i community numbers 300,000, but Baha'is also live in other countries and, indeed, there are some in my constituency. The Baha'is in Iran have long been persecuted.