Thursday, 28 May 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
16. Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the recent contact he has had with the Ambassador of Iran in relation to the incarceration of members of the Baha’i faith and the form of the charges against them. [21820/09]
The situation of members of the minority Baha’i faith in Iran has long been a matter of serious concern to the Government and to members of the Oireachtas. In recent years, there has been a progressive increase in harassment of individual Baha’is, and worrying indications that these are part of a concerted effort by the Iranian authorities to destroy the Baha’i faith and community as a whole. Reports suggest that up to 37 Baha’i are imprisoned in Iran at present, many without trial.
Particular concern has arisen in relation to a group of seven Baha’i community leaders, five men and two women, who were detained, one in March and the others in May 2008, and held for almost a year without any formal charge. During this period, outside contacts have been restricted to a family visit of ten minutes approximately once per month. We understand that these seven people constitute an informal leadership group, attempting to maintain links among the Baha’i communities throughout Iran. Their arrest gives rise to particular concern because of the fate of the previous Baha’i leadership, who in 1980 in the early days of the Islamic Republic were arrested and never seen again. The successor leadership were also arrested in 1981 and executed.
The seven Baha’i currently in custody have now been charged with a number of offences, including running an illegal organisation, anti-regime propaganda, insulting religious values, and espionage on behalf of Israel. These are obviously very serious charges, which could lead to the application of the death penalty, and the basis for which must be seriously questioned. Concerns are heightened by the fact that the lawyers for the accused have been unable to see them at all, have been denied access to the case files, and have themselves been subject to public criticism and harassment. There seems very little prospect of even a semblance of a fair trial in these circumstances. In addition, no trial date has been set and the detainees have never been to court to hear the charges against them. More recently, the espionage charge has been dropped and a charge of “spreading corruption on earth” has been added. Worryingly, this new charge also attracts the death penalty in Iran.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs has directly raised his concerns regarding the treatment of the Baha’i with members of the Iranian Government, including with Foreign Minister Mottaki at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2008. In December 2008, Minister Martin wrote to Foreign Minister Mottaki on human rights concerns in general, and raised the issue of the Baha’i and the case of these seven representatives in particular. In his letter, the Minister stated that: “It is difficult in these circumstances to avoid the conclusion that the Government and authorities of Iran are actively trying to suppress a religious faith.” Last month the Minister received a lengthy response from Foreign Minister Mottaki, which he and his officials have studied closely. However, Foreign Minister Mottaki’s reply would not appear to go beyond previous statements by the Iranian authorities on human rights issues or provide the necessary assurances in relation to the specific treatment of these seven detained Baha’i.
The European Union has repeatedly drawn attention to the oppression perpetrated against the Baha’i faith and its members by the Islamic Republic of Iran. In February, the EU issued a statement expressing its deep concern that, after being held for so long without due process, the Baha’i leaders may not receive a fair trial and requesting Iran to allow independent observation of the judicial proceedings and to reconsider the charges brought against these individuals. A further EU Declaration, fully supported by Ireland, on the increasing violation of religious freedom in Iran, issued on 25 May. This reiterated concerns about the continued detention without trial of the seven Baha’i leaders and called on the Iranian authorities to uphold their international legal undertakings to safeguard religious freedom and stop their persecution of legitimate religious activities.
Officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs met with the Iranian Ambassador to Ireland at the end of February to restate our strong concerns in relation to human rights in Iran and the treatment of the Baha’i. Officials in the Department also meet regularly with senior representatives of the Baha’i community here, most recently earlier this month. I would like to assure the Deputy that the Government, both directly through our Embassy in Tehran and in cooperation with our EU partners, will continue to monitor this particular case closely and we will not hesitate to bring our views to the notice of the Iranian authorities.
17. Deputy Shane McEntee asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his position with respect to the issue of Armenia’s claim of genocide by Turkey in 1917; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21779/09]
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin): I would direct the Deputy to the Minister’s reply on this matter on 12 May. In that reply, the Minister noted that the events which resulted in the tragic deaths of very large numbers of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire more than ninety years ago continue to be interpreted very differently in Turkey and Armenia. However, the Minister also emphasised that last month’s announcement of a roadmap for the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Turkey was a positive step for the two countries’ relations, which will hopefully lead to the opening of diplomatic relations and of the common border between the two countries.
As the Minister mentioned then, official details of the roadmap have not yet been made public, but it appears likely that it will include a mechanism to allow for a joint study of the period and an investigation of claims relating to Armenian deaths. This will hopefully lead to an agreed interpretation of those tragic events. I believe that, in recognising the sensitivity of the issues involved, we should support these recent positive efforts between the two countries to address all outstanding issues, including historical ones.
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