David Burrowes calls on the leaders of Iran to release prisoners of conscience

22nd March 2017

David Burrowes calls on the leaders of Iran to release prisoners of conscience during this festival week of Nowruz.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) on clearly calling out Iran and its state-sponsored terrorism, its direct threat to Israel and its destabilisation of the wider region. We always say that debates are timely. Even if it was delayed, this one is indeed timely, not least, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) said—I commend her remarks—because of the Nowruz celebrations this week.

Nowruz is a time of holiday and celebration for the great Iranian diaspora in my constituency and elsewhere. We can join in their celebrations, but we are showing our solidarity with the Iranian people today; that is what we are doing. We are on their side, particularly as we look to their constitution, which has a respect for diversity and freedom—not least freedom of belief of religion. That is the issue I will focus on; it has been mentioned before but I will talk about it again.

In this festival week, past Iranian Governments have traditionally granted pardons to prisoners of conscience, which is why I particularly want to call them out on current prisoners of conscience. When President Rouhani was elected, there was optimism and hope. There were good words, and we thought that this was a new chapter. However, those hopes have been dashed—not least for those prisoners of conscience who simply want to go about their day and manifest their faith.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble referred to engagement. There has been engagement; it led to the comprehensive plan of action, which led to the opening of the British embassy, which led to international ties. However, that engagement has to be meaningful and conditional. The litmus test that we want is the condition of human rights—not least the fundamental human rights of freedom of belief. Last week, Mr Hadi Asgari and Mr Amin Naderi went on hunger strike to demand adequate medical care and attention. They had been detained for the crime of converting to Christianity, which, of course, is no crime.

These are not isolated cases, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said. I also refer to the recent case from 20 February in Urmia, when revolutionary guards intelligence detained Anousheh Reza-bakhsh and her son Soheil Zagarzadeh Sani, who refer to themselves as Veronika and Augustine. They were arrested in their home and had had no previous contact at all with the authorities. They do not understand why they have been arrested. In fact, no one has had any further updates on their whereabouts and wellbeing since the date of their arrest. It is feared that they have been detained by the revolutionary guards intelligence, as happens in Urmia.

There are also others. Maryam Naghash Zargaran, a Christian convert, is serving a four-year sentence for the so-called charge of action against national security, simply for having a Christian faith. There is also Ebrahim Firouzi, a Christian convert who has been imprisoned since August 2013. The list goes on and on, and it is important that we speak out for those people with whom we act in solidarity today. There is a litany of human rights abuses, including multiple sessions of prolonged interrogation, coupled with physical and mental abuse and death threats.

In our engagement with Iran, is the Minister calling out those human rights abuses? During Nowruz, we are calling out to Iran to show that there is some good faith, which many have perhaps lost, that it will release those prisoners of conscience. That would give us at least some reassurance that Iran wants to pursue the proper freedoms and human rights that lead to proper engagement.

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Easter Newsletter

Apart from Cadbury's most people recognise Easter, particularly Christians as we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A dedicated holiday on Good Friday highlights our enduring Christian heritage. As for me I will have contrasting experiences of Easter. On Good Friday I will attend the Greek Orthodox service at St Demetrios Church and join with many hundred in procession around the church. On Saturday 22nd April at 7.30pm I will be taking part in a dramatic presentation at my church in Enfield (www.eefc.net) donning a wig and gown as a Defence Counsel in a case about the evidence for the Resurrection entitled 'Who moved the stone?'

I recognise my Jewish constituents are also celebrating a most significant time in their calendar remembering the Passover. For others it is simply a time to be with the family and eat lots of chocolate! However you will be celebrating Easter, I send you my best wishes.

David Burrowes MP


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