JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa)
: I move,
That the report of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee on the briefing from the New Zealand Baha’i community be noted. The issue that we are here this evening to address is a report back from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, following a petition to the
committee by members of the Baha’i community in New Zealand. They had expressed concern about the detention of members of the Baha’i community in Iran.
One of the things that is quite important to explain to the House is that the Baha’i faith was established in Iran in the 19th century by the prophet Baha-ullah, and herein lies the problem. The followers of Islam recognise only the prophet Muhammad. Baha-ullah lived after Muhammad, and this is the core of the problem. Iran is essentially an Islamic State, and those of the Baha’i faith cause some dissension with the Government. Nevertheless, the committee investigated the issues that were raised with us by the members of the community here, and we sought comment from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We learnt that successive New Zealand Governments have raised human rights issues regarding the Baha’i community with the Government of Iran on a number of occasions. The Iranian Government maintains that Baha’i is not a religion but a political group, and that in Iran there is no difference between religious minorities regarding their standing before the law.
The committee was concerned that there was some evidence that members of the Baha’i community in Iran were being held in circumstances where it was not immediately clear that they were receiving the same treatment as all other people held in prison in Iran. Clearly there had been some postponing of trials and retaining of Baha’i members in custody. We were told that the New Zealand Government had made representations to the Iranian Government and that the New Zealand Ambassador in Tehran had called on Dr Tahereh Nazari, director-general of human rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and made a démarche on 3 September 2009, citing New Zealand’s concerns about the treatment of the Baha’i community in Iran and the imprisonment of seven senior Baha’i members. The committee considered that the persecution of the Baha’i members was a serious human rights issue in Iran. We noted that the New Zealand Baha’i community and the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of New Zealand regularly express appreciation of the support of the New Zealand Government on this issue.
The committee thought long and hard about the recommendations that it might make to this Parliament, and they are three. The first is that the Government takes the opportunity to discuss these issues during the political and economic cooperation consultations between New Zealand and Iran and raises New Zealand’s concern about human rights violations and the treatment of the detained Baha’i members of the Yaran. Secondly, the committee felt that the Government might consider co-sponsoring the Canadian resolution on human rights in Iran in the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. Thirdly, the committee felt that New Zealand should lobby other countries in support of the Canadian resolution. Thank you.