GOVERNMENT URGES IRAN TO RESPECT BAHA'I RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Representations made in Canberra and Teheran

For further information:
Natalie Mobini 02 9913 2771
Judy Hassall 02 9997 1549
Michael Curtotti 02 6287 2211

CANBERRA 19 October: The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade today reaffirmed the government's continuing deep concern over the situation of the Baha'is in Iran, stated Australian Baha'i representatives.

The government has called on Iranian authorities to allow the Baha'is freedom to engage fully in their religious activities. The Australian action parallels that of other countries such as Canada, the United States and members of the European Union following evidence of a new waveof persecution against the Bahas in Iran.

"We are grateful for the strong stand that the Australian government, and Mr Downer in particular, have taken on this issue", stated MrsJudy Hassall, speaking on behalf of the 10,000- strong Australian Baha'i community. "We know that the rest of Australia shares our abhorrence of suffering imposed on anyone just because oftheir religion."

The Baha'i community was advised in DFAT correspondence today that representations had been made on the situation of the Baha'is to the Iranian Charge d'Affaires by Ms Gillian Bird, First Assistant Secretary, International Organisations and Legal Division of DFAT in Canberra, and to the Iranian Foreign Ministry by Mr Stuart Hume, Australian Ambassador in Teheran.

The representations followed the confirmation of death sentences against two more Baha'is in Mashhad, and nation-wide raids by the Iranian Ministry of Information to close down the Baha'i "open university". The men sentenced to death, Mr Kashefi Najafabadi, and Mr Sirus Moghadam, were arrested in the Iranian city of Mashhad last November, apparently for holding religious meetings in their homes.

"The Australian government has again urged the Iranian authorities to allow the Baha'i community the freedom to fully engage in its religious activities. The government has also called on Iran not to carry out these latest death sentences," said Mrs Hassall.

The latest actions by the Australian government follow expression of deep distress by the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, after the execution of Mr Ruhullah Rawhani in Mashhad in July this year. Mr Rawhani was hanged because of hisreligious beliefs.

Last year the Australian parliament adopted a resolution condemning death sentences imposed on two Baha'is for the religious offence of apostasy. The persecution of Baha'is has continued to draw international condemnation, with successive Australian governments urging the Iranians to end their suppression of the Baha'is.

"We are deeply concerned about the current situation of the Baha'is in Iran", said Mrs Hassall. "In the past few weeks there have been nationwide arrests of 36 Baha'i professors and teachers, and raids on 500 Baha'i homes around the country. These repressive actions are intended to prevent Baha'i youth receiving education in topics such as mathematics, science, language and humanities. They show a dramatic intensification of the government's efforts to stamp out the Baha'i community in Iran purely because their religious beliefs say the Baha'i Faith is heretical."