I spoke in the debate this afternoon in Westminster Hall.
Here is my intervention on Louise Ellman MP who introduced the debate :
Mike Gapes(Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Reference has been made to members of other faiths. Has my hon. Friend read the report of the United Nations special rapporteur, which condemned the actions taken against Arabs, Azeris, Baha’is, Balochs, Christians, Kurds, Sufis and Sunni Muslims? The report was published in September by the special rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, who was appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Mrs Ellman: That report is extremely important in documenting the wide range of persecution in Iran. It is important that the report is made known more widely and leads to action. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work during the previous Parliament as Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which considered human rights in Iran and specifically referred to some of these issues, including the Baha’is and other groups to whom he referred. The Select Committee’s work in drawing public attention to the situation is extremely important, but what also matters is that the information is used and followed by action, in this country and internationally.
Here is my speech:
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): During the previous Parliament, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs went to Iran in autumn 2007, and in February 2008 it published a report that went into considerable detail on many issues, including the human rights situation. The Select Committee concluded that Iran is a complex and diverse society ruled by a theocratic regime. My impressions are of a young country that wants to engage with the rest of the world, but is prevented from doing so by the policies of the ruling clique. However, another problem is that there is not one ruling group; that touches on the point about how the authorities sometimes move in unexpected ways, because decisions are not taken in a way that is transparent from our point of view.
How we deal with a country such as Iran is a dilemma. On the one hand, we try to encourage a process of openness and reform, but on the other, we recognise its appalling behaviour, whether in systematically breaching obligations under the non-proliferation treaty; sponsoring terrorist actions in other countries; or defending the autocratic, repressive Syrian regime, as it is doing at the moment. We and the European Union had problems with the policy of so-called “constructive engagement”, which has run into the sand. We saw the newly elected President Obama extending his hand to the Iranians when he came to office in early 2009 and being snubbed. How do we deal with a country of that kind?
Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab): I, too, was in the delegation to Iran in November 2007. Would my hon. Friend agree that we were given privileged access to, among other things, some of the dissenters? Following on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), there are quite a number of dissidents who stand up for the things that they believe in—a free, open, democratic and pluralist Iran—despite being oppressed day in, day out.
Mike Gapes: I accept my hon. Friend’s point, but I think that we were not “given privileged access”; rather, our diplomats made it possible for us to engage with some people. It was a privilege for us, but those people were taking great risks in contacting us, and some of them are no longer in Iran and are not allowed to return, due to their activities at that time and because they would not be secure and safe.
I want to conclude be making a contrast. BBC journalists are not allowed to report in Iran, and the Iranian authorities make systematic efforts to jam international broadcasts and satellites, including the BBC World Service Persian television service, which has been very popular with the Iranian people. The regime tries very hard to keep from the people the truth about the atrocities in June 2009, when protestors against the rigged election were on the streets in huge numbers, and about what subsequently happened to protestors’ families. Propaganda is broadcast to Iranian homes by state-controlled Press TV, including broadcasts from London of people who claim that the demonstration against tuition fees was parallel to the protests of June 2009.
Will the Minister say something about the anomaly of the BBC not being allowed in Iran and foreign broadcasts systematically being prevented from getting through to Iran—so far as the regime is able to prevent that—when we allow representatives of the Iranian Government, through their mouthpiece, Press TV, to broadcast propaganda about this country that completely distorts what is happening in the world? Given the current crisis, and the fact that diplomatic relations are broken, I find it difficult to see why we do not take steps to prevent Press TV from behaving in such a way. Would we have allowed Nazi media to broadcast from London in 1939? I ask that question as a serious point for us to think about for the future.