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The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, in the debate today, many will rightly focus on the political situation in Iran—some have done so already—and on its implications for the region and for the world. Iran's relations with her neighbours, the confrontational situation with Israel and international unease about Iran's nuclear ambitions are all causes of significant concern.
 
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A number of people in this Chamber can address these concerns better than I can. I am sure that they will do so. Indeed, they have done so. I wish, however, to draw your Lordships' attention to some features of the situation which should not be forgotten. The first is that Iran is not only a revolutionary Islamic republic. As has been said, it is the bearer of an ancient and dynamic civilisation which predates the coming not only of Islam but of Christianity. It has also had a hugely creative relationship with Judaism. The remaining Jews in Iran are a legacy from the time of Queen Esther.

This civilisation has its own sense of history, its own literature—historical, poetical, scientific and theological—and its own culture. Nor have the people of Iran always been victims of invaders. They have sometimes been conquerors of other parts of the world themselves. The relationship of that complex heritage to Shi'a Islam is not always straightforward. It is largely awareness of that civilisation that distinguishes Iran from its Arab neighbours. As a factor in the national consciousness, it should never be underestimated. It would certainly play an important role in the cultural and spiritual renewal of the Irani people.

Secondly, there is a great deal of ferment in Iran; that has been hinted at already. There is a spiritual hunger and thirst that is not being quenched and that continues to seek freedom for the spiritual quest. Young people, who are by far the majority, are dissatisfied with the artificial constraints imposed on their access to knowledge, entertainment and current affairs. They wish to be treated as adults in terms of their relationships and are looking for trust not for repression. It is difficult to see how any regime can indefinitely hold back the tide for change.

Thirdly, the ulema or the fuquha, the religious scholars themselves, or at least some of them, are opening up to the outside world. In Tehran, Qorn and Meshed, they are studying, translating and commenting on contemporary philosophical, literary and theological movements and works. There are projects for translating the works of western theologians, for instance—people of other faiths—and there are regular programmes for inter-faith dialogue. In the past week we have seen the dangers of caricature all too clearly. We must not succumb to that tendency but evaluate carefully where such intellectual activity is leading and what impact it will have in the long run on that nation's life.

Music, poetry and film continue to flourish even in post-revolutionary Iran and are often the vehicles for social comment and political criticism. Any policy of exchange will need to support the recovery of Iran's ancient heritage. The work of the British Institute of Persian Studies has been second to none in that respect and I hope it can continue. The young need to be encouraged and the religious scholars supported in their wish to widen their horizons. Whatever happens politically, we must make every effort to continue and increase academic, cultural and religious contacts.
 
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I make a final observation: the United Nations and other monitoring agencies have consistently singled out the parlous state of Iran's religious and ethnic minorities. Their freedom is in many cases significantly restricted. Their properties have been confiscated and they live in constant fear of being reported to the Basiji, or revolutionary guard. Their survival and welfare should be in our minds when we consider the political options.

We pray that Iran will, once again, attain greatness not on the basis of its military power but because of the sensitivity of its people, the scope of its art and literature and the sweetness of its language. We pray that it will be once more a respected member of the international community and that it will make its own special contribution. As an Iranian poet has said,

He says,

I am sure we can all say "Amen" to that.

12.15 pm

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for initiating the debate and for providing the opportunity to consider the position of human rights in Iran and the inclusion of the PMOI on the terrorist list.

It is just about a year since I spoke at a symposium of parliamentarians and jurists calling for the removal of the PMOI from the terrorist list. I said then that I hoped that the following year would be the year in which a dark and brutal chapter in Iran's proud history would close and a new dawn would begin. But what is the reality? What has happened since? As we speak, Nazanin, an 18 year-old Iranian girl, languishes in solitary confinement in a Tehran gaol, counting down the last days of her short life. Nazanin has been sentenced to death by one of Iran's Islamic courts. She was accused of killing the man trying to rape her in a park in Tehran when she was just 17 years old. A weeping Nazanin told the religious judge that she and her 16 year-old niece were attacked by three men who wanted to rape them. The judge accepted her account but nevertheless condemned her to death. This is the regime we are talking about.

Nazanin's story is not an isolated one. Earlier this month, another girl, Delara Darabi, was sentenced to death for a crime she allegedly committed as a minor—a crime she absolutely denies. A particularly repugnant case is that of 16 year-old Atefeh Rajabi who, in August 2004, was hanged in public for what the religious judge described as "acts incompatible with chastity". He then personally put the rope around her neck.

Since the new president assumed office—undemocratically elected by only 10 per cent of the population—150 men and women have been hanged in public in Iran. The total number of political executions in the past 26 years is believed to exceed 120,000, many of whom have been minors. Iran
 
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has one of the most deplorable records of human rights violations in the world. There have been no fewer than 54 UN resolutions condemning the ruling mullahs for their continuing grave violations of human rights. As has been widely reported by international human rights organisations, the government of the radical Islamic president has been stepping up international repression. Executions, arbitrary arrests and violent suppression of anti-government protests and strikes are on the rise.

The nuclear danger can never be underestimated; it has to be one of our major concerns. But that does not mean that we should lose sight of the fact that millions of Iranians are living under this repressive and theocratic regime. From the onset, the president's policies have exhibited a volatile mixture of nationalism and radical Islamic social engineering. His language has been one of contempt for the international community and for religious and ethnic minorities; there has been xenophobia, anti-Semitism and an absolute rejection of compromise, so clearly illustrated by his vow to defy referral to the Security Council of his suspected nuclear ambitions.

As is so often the case, women are the first victims of the renewed crackdown by the ultra-Islamic radicals. Earlier this month, the president's adviser said that plans to enforce gender segregation on Iran's pedestrian walkways were well under way. The official said that this was part of a government plan called "Enhancing the hijab"—that is the veil—"culture and female chastity". When the president was the mayor of Tehran, he ordered all buildings belonging to the municipality to have separate lifts for men and women. I assume those lifts were actually working.

In Iran, violence against women has been legalised and institutionalised by the state. A recent study conducted by the National Welfare Organisation found that two-thirds of Iranian women are victims of domestic violence. Iran remains one of the only countries in the world where women are stoned to death. Last year, the UN Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women, Professor Ertürk, chastised Iran over what she said were abuses and discrimination built into the Islamic republic's laws. She wrote in her report:

She also said that suffering wives face time-consuming judicial procedures and stigmatisation.

At the same time as condemning the Iranian regime, we should be offering our support to Mrs Maryam Rajavi, as did my noble friend Lord Temple-Morris, and the Iranian resistance for staying true to their goal of standing up for the basic rights of the Iranian people. As well as revealing to the world the mullahs' nuclear weapons programme, their terrorist atrocities carried out in various parts of the world and their interference in Iraq, the PMOI and the NCRI have been fundamentally the primary source of information concerning the Iranian regime. As the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said, getting information is difficult.
 
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It is therefore a grave injustice that the PMOI should find itself proscribed and have restrictions placed on its activities. The placing of the illegitimate terror tag on the PMOI was an undeserved gift to the mullahs, as has been the policy of appeasement which only strengthens the mullahs in their abuse of human rights. It is about time that we stopped appeasing the mullahs. It is about time that we de-proscribed the PMOI. The proscription of the PMOI does not have the support of many hundreds of parliamentarians, British jurists or the British public. I believe that Britain is in a unique position to take the lead in launching a new policy initiative on Iran and forging a transatlantic consensus that will through a robust, creative and firm diplomacy prevent Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the Government are prepared to take up that challenge.

I end by doing something I never believed I would ever do—quote from an editorial in the Sun. It says:

12.22 pm


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