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MPs reject Iran ‘charm offensive’

07 November 2014


Scrutinised: Mohammad Javad Larijani, Secretary General of the High Council for Human Rights of Iran, speaks during a session on Iran of the Universal Periodic Review into human rights records of United Nations member states, at the UN in Geneva, last Friday

Scrutinised: Mohammad Javad Larijani, Secretary General of the High Council for Human Rights of Iran, speaks during a session on Iran of ...

A CROSS-PARTY GROUP of four MPs has called on the Government not to restore full diplomatic relations with Iran until the Iranian authorities abide by international laws relating to religious freedom.

The MPs had earlier been denied entry to Iran, where, they said, they had hoped to begin "positive and respectful dialogue with the Iranian authorities on matters relating to human rights in general and freedom of religion in particular."

The delegation, consisting of the Conservative MPs David Burrowes and Alistair Burt, the Democractic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson, and the Labour MP Stephen Timms, had "the support of a significant number of UK parliamentarians" and had been in discussion with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Iranian government for more than a year about the proposed visit.

Mr Timms, who chairs Christians on the Left, told the Church Times that his desire to raise the issue of religious freedom with the Tehran authorities stemmed from meetings with Iranian Christians in Turkey last year. He said that he had been "distressed to hear from them of experiences of imprisonment and persecution in their own country. "The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, recently called for the UK to champion the cause of persecuted Christians - and others persecuted on religious grounds - within its foreign policy positions. I agree with him. I don't believe the UK can turn a blind eye to brutal persecution on religious grounds as it develops a new relationship with Iran."

The MPs want the Government to delay the reopening of the Iranian Embassy in London "until Iran takes serious steps to comply with its obligations under the UN human rights covenants to which it is a party, and its own constitution, which enshrines the protection of religious minority communities."

Mr Burrowes said that the delegation had information showing that "religious liberty has been further eroded since President Rouhani was elected. I understand that there may be good strategic reasons why we would want to rebuild relations and trade with Iran. However, we would be betraying the people of Iran were we to airbrush out the human-rights abuses for the purposes of our strategic interests. We should not be fooled by the charm offensive of this regime."

A statement from the FCO in April this year said that the human-rights position in Iran "remains dire, and we are determined to continue to hold the Iranian government to account".

In an update in late September, the FCO announced that there was little change in Iran's human-rights picture, including continued "international concern over the widespread use of the death penalty" and restrictions on religious freedom.

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