Human Rights (Iran)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:45 pm on 6th June 2006.

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office 12:45 pm, 6th June 2006

Repeatedly.

I was dealing with the question of political freedoms, and I turn now to freedom of expression. As anyone who reads Iranian newspapers will be aware, they certainly engage in colourful and sometimes vigorous debate, but it appears that the confines of such debate are closely circumscribed. In the course of the past five years, the regime has quietly extended its control over the Iranian people's ability to express their views. Dozens of newspapers have been closed and journalists have been arrested. The journalist Arzhang Davoudi received a 15-year sentence simply for producing a documentary about another journalist who died in custody in suspicious circumstances.

The Iranian Government's clampdown on the internet has largely passed unnoticed but is also of concern. Many websites that were accessible in Tehran two years ago are now censored, including the BBC's Persian news website. The Iranian Government recently announced plans to establish a national internet. That would further restrict communication between Iran and the outside world. It would also facilitate control by the authorities. It appears that the Iranian Government do not believe that the Iranian people should be able freely to choose what they read.

The situation of Iran's trade unions is also of concern. Strikes are not permitted, and in January hundreds of Tehran bus drivers were arrested for taking part in a series of strikes. The wives of some protestors were also arrested and several houses were searched. The head of the bus drivers' syndicate remains in custody, some four months after the strikes.

Hon. Members voiced concern about the situation faced by Iran's religious minorities, and I am grateful to them for their continuing efforts in ensuring that Parliament is kept abreast of developments. Reports that Iran's supreme leader has instructed the army to identify Baha'is and monitor their activities are especially worrying. Hundreds of Baha'is have had their property confiscated, faced intimidation or been denied access to education. Mehran Kowsar is one of many members of the Baha'i faith to have been arrested for his religious beliefs; he has been in prison for well over a year. It is clear from that case that elements of the Iranian judicial system are in need of urgent reform.