Source: MEFD holds event in the House of Commons concerning persecution of Iran’s minorities « Middle East Forum for Development
London, MEFD – Middle East Forum for Development (MEFD) was represented at a panel event in the House of Commons on Monday, which it co-organised with the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion. The event, chaired by Sir David Amess MP, was titled ‘The persecution of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran’ and was attended by a number of notable attendees from across a wide spectrum.
The speakers included Dr Ahmed Shaheed, current UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and former UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights situation in Iran; Mosa Zahed, executive director of Middle East Forum for Development; Amir Saedi, representative of Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation UK; a representative of Iran’s Christian minority and Paulo Casaca, executive director of Alliance to Renew Co-operation among Humankind.
In attendance were officials from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, a representative of the US Embassy in London, Members of Parliament and representatives of various human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Open Doors UK and Middle East Concern. Also in attendance were members of Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), representing Iranian Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs and the Baloch people of Iran.
The speakers raised awareness of the ongoing and relentless persecution of religious and ethnic minorities in Iran, including the arbitrary arrest and detention of countless people who had called for their religious and cultural rights to be respected. The event also explored the issue of how the international community can better support and protect such minorities.
Dr Shaheed, the keynote speaker of the event, emphasised that “Iran is a nightmare for religious minorities” since the Iranian authorities continue to “discriminate against other religions” and ethnic groups. He argued that Baha’is continue to be systematically persecuted, stating that Baha’i students are expelled from schools simply because they do not adhere to Shi’ism. He further stressed that Iran’s Sunni minority is increasingly targeted for terrorism-related offences, especially since the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the region, which the Iranian authorities are using as a pretext to persecute the Sunni community. Shaheed highlighted that the persecution of Iran’s Christian and Sufi communities continue unabatedly and that the Islamic Republic of Iran is not upholding its own constitution vis-à-vis the country’s ethnic and religious minorities. Regarding Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s Citizens’ Rights Charter, Dr Shaheed stated that it was a “smokescreen which contained marginal changes but did not do anything practical in order to improve the human rights situation in Iran.”
Mosa Zahed expressed his gratitude to Sir David Amess for chairing the event and paid tribute to the All-Party Parliamentary Groups which co-sponsored the event. Zahed used the occasion to highlight the case of imprisoned Iranian spiritual teacher Mohammad Ali Taheri, who has been held in solitary confinement in Iran’s notorious Evin prison since 2011. Zahed further elaborated that he represented Mr Taheri’s family at the event as they could not attend due to the passing of Mr Taheri’s mother earlier in the month.
Zahed provided a background to Mr Taheri’s case and detailed MEFD’s activities in respect of securing Mr Taheri’s immediate and unconditional release from prison. He argued that “taking into account the time Mr Taheri spent in pre-trial detention in 2010, his prison sentence was considered to be complete in February 2016.” Zahed further argued that an official from the judiciary promised Mr Taheri on 2nd January 2017 that if Mr Taheri would end his sixteenth hunger strike, which he commenced in September 2016, the authorities would review his case as soon as possible; however, the Iranian authorities so far have not reviewed Mr Taheri’s case. Zahed requested that the British government takes serious action to compel the Iranian authorities to release Mr Taheri, and on a general note highlighted that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has violated the fundamental rights of the Iranian people for almost four decades and an intensification of relations with the country should therefore be contingent upon the improvement of the human rights situation.”
Amir Saedi underscored that Iran’s minority groups “have not been accorded equal citizenship and their ethnicity or religion are not officially acknowledged [by the authorities].” He emphasised that “Arabs in Iran are caught in between an unfortunate phenomenon; they are subjected to racism due to historical Persian-Arab animosity.” Saedi continued “Ahwazi Arabs have been one of the excluded constituent nationalities and socio-economically, among the most oppressed and rank at the bottom” and further stressed that “the Arab-populated border cities destroyed during the Iran-Iraq war have largely remained untouched. The regime damned and diverted the water of our rivers such as Karun to non-Arab areas of Isfahan, Yazd and Kerman while Khuzestan severely suffers from a shortage of [clean] drinking water.”
Paulo Casaca raised the issue of Iran’s drug policy and its impact on ethnic minorities and dissidents. Casaca argued that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has “channelled, in a non-transparent way, large amounts of funds from the international community to the Iranian authorities in the name of a ‘war on drugs’”. Casaca further stressed that the UNODC “does not reveal that a considerable number of those arrested and executed for ‘drug offenses’ are in fact political dissidents or members of ethnic minorities habituating border regions” and requested “full transparency by UNODC on all the support [financial or otherwise] it provided to the Iranian authorities in the past 15 years.” He further added that as long as the UNODC provides financial support to Iran, governments across the world should cease funding the UN agency.
All the speakers at the event agreed that more initiatives must be organised in the future in order to keep the human rights situation in Iran on the agenda of the international community.