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
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
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.