Prominent lawyers joined by Australia's Foreign Minister in call for release of Baha’i leaders
The Honourable John Dowd AO QC
A demand by 26 prominent Australian lawyers this week for the release of seven Baha’i leaders imprisoned in Iran was complemented by a similar call from the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, and members of the leaders’ families.
Leading jurist John Dowd AO QC, one of the signatories of an open letter from the lawyers to the Ambassador of Iran, delivered a keynote address at the launch of the letter in the New South Wales Parliament House in Sydney on 11 May 2016.
Mr Dowd declared the 2008 arrests and the ongoing detention of the seven leaders illegal under international law and the law of Iran.
“There is no charge which could be sustained,” said Mr Dowd, the president of the International Commission of Jurists Australia, and a former NSW Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice.
“They were deprived of their right to legal representation, and indeed their lawyers have been arrested,” he said.
“The seven are in themselves model prisoners and have conducted themselves with dignity, and are a shining example to others.”
Sydney barrister Faraz Mahami read the open letter to the capacity audience, who included some of the signatories of the open letter, among whom were Queen’s Counsel and Senior Counsel, prominent legal academics, human rights specialists and other leading members of the profession.
Among the 26 were Mr Bret Walker SC; Professor George Williams AO; Hon Catherine Branson QC; Mr Julian Burnside AO QC; Dr Sarah Pritchard SC; The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP; Mr Peter Wertheim AM; Ms Jane Needham SC; Mr Winston Terracini SC; Mr Julian McMahon; Mr Terrence Tobin QC.
A message from Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop MP, herself a prominent lawyer, was read to the function by Diyana Mansour from the NSW State Office of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“Australia remains deeply concerned by the human rights situation in Iran and ongoing reports of the ill-treatment of minority and ethnic communities, including the Baha’i community," the message said.
“This occasion marks the eighth anniversary of imprisonment for seven national leaders of the Baha’i community: Afif Naeimi, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mahvash Sabet, Saeid Rezaie, and Vahid Tizfahm.
“Australia continues to call for their release and for the release of all prisoners of conscience in Iran today.” [See full text below].
A nephew of Saeid Rezaie, one of the imprisoned leaders, said it was highly important and commendable that the Australian legal community has called for the immediate release of the seven innocent leaders.
Mehrzad Mumtahan, the founder of Sydney's Harmony Film Festival, said the Baha’i community was one of the first to be targeted by the clerical regime, and is a barometer for freedom and equality in Iran.
“What happened to the Baha’is went unchallenged by the wider Iranian society and this indifference was seen by the regime as a mandate to target other groups and minorities which now includes journalists, artists, poets, students, teachers and even former and current supporters of the regime itself.
“Standing up for the rights of Baha’is in Iran and upholding their universal rights is important because that represents freedom of thought for many more individuals and minorities in that country.”
A brother of Behrouz Tavakkoli said he saw his sibling as “a beacon of kindliness, a beacon of love, a beacon of unity shining out from a dark cell, illuminating the world.”
“No one can imprison and mute a lover of unity, peace and kindness -- because such voices cannot be muted, said Amin Tavakoli, an Adelaide businessman who first arrived in Australia as a refugee.
Mr Tavakoli said the Baha’is of Iran, while enduring injustice, have stood firm in their beliefs:“always peaceful, always law-abiding, never political, but always and forever extending the hand of love, friendship and unity.”
Dr Natalie Mobini, the MC for the function and a spokesperson for the Australian Baha’i Community, expressed appreciation to the signatories, the Foreign Minister and her Department, members of other faith communities present, and to the function’s parliamentary host, Daniel Mookhey MP.
Calling for the immediate release of the leaders, Dr Mobini said that under Iran’s own national penal code, having served eight years of their term of imprisonment, the seven are well overdue for conditional release, which is regularly granted to other prisoners.
Dr Mobini urged those wanting to support the seven to post on social media about the anniversary of their imprisonment, and those on twitter to use the hashtag #ReleaseBaha’i7now as part of an international campaign on 13 May.
- Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
- Professor Iain T. Benson
- Hon Catherine Branson QC
- Mr Julian Burnside AO QC
- Mr Rodger M.A. Chongwe SC
- Mr Robert Leonard Crowe SC
- The Hon John Dowd AO QC
- The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP
- Mr Stephen Freeman
- Mr Jeremy Gormly SC
- Mr Noel Hutley SC
- Mr Ian Lacey AM
- Mr Philip Lynch
- Mr Julian McMahon
- Ms Jane Needham SC
- Ms Elaine Pearson
- Dr Sarah Pritchard SC
- Professor Michael Quinlan
- Mr Garry Rich SC
- Mr John Stratton SC
- Mr Winston Terracini SC
- Dr Keith Thompson
- Mr Terence Tobin QC
- Mr Barry Toomey QC
- Mr Bret Walker SC
- Mr Peter Wertheim AM
- Professor George Williams AO
Note: Former Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson has also signed the letter
Foreign Minister: 2016 Message to the Australian Baha’i Community
Australia remains deeply concerned by the human rights situation in Iran and ongoing reports of the ill-treatment of minority and ethnic communities, including the Baha’i community.
This occasion marks the eighth anniversary of imprisonment for seven national leaders of the Baha’i community: Afif Naeimi, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mahvash Sabet, Saeid Rezaie, and Vahid Tizfahm.
Australia continues to call for their release and for the release of all prisoners of conscience in Iran today. I continue to reiterate Australia’s human rights concerns directly with the Iranian government, including most recently during the visit to Australia by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in March 2016.
I also raised Australia’s concerns during my visit to Iran in April 2015. Australia has been forthright in expressing our disquiet in relevant UN fora. In November 2015 we co-sponsored a UN General Assembly Committee Resolution on the human rights situation in Iran, which expressed our explicit concerns about the persecution and ill treatment of ethnic and religious minorities.
We will continue to closely monitor the human rights situation in Iran and raise our concerns in both bilateral and multilateral forums. It is the firm belief of the Australian Government that freedom of religion and belief is a core human right, and that this freedom must be respected in all countries, including in Iran.