HL Deb 07 July 1994 vol 556 cc1384-6

3.25 p.m.

Viscount Brentford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will make representations to Iran about the murder of the Rev. Tateos Michaelian and the disappearance of the Rev. Mehdi Dibaj.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we utterly deplore the murders of the Rev. Tateos Michaelian and the Rev. Mehdi Dibaj in Tehran. The German Presidency of the European Union is today preparing a European Union démarche. Subsequent action will depend on further information and responses from Tehran.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer and for pointing out that the person in the Question who was named as missing has now been found murdered. Does she consider it appropriate to press Iran for the rapporteur to pay another visit there? I believe that that has been resisted by the Iranian Government. The Iranian Government have signed Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights but are not abiding by it. I am glad that the European Union will apply pressure to Iran in order to stop the murders.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we are only too willing to press the Government of Iran to allow Mr. Galindo-Pohl, the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative, to have access again to Iran. He has been denied access since 1991, having first gone there in 1989. With our European Union partners we called on the Iranian Government in March this year to co-operate fully with Mr. Galindo-Pohl. They have not so responded.

The Lord Bishop of Chester

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the Church's tremendous concern over this matter, which is so great that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury would have been here himself to express his support if he had not been out of London? Is the Minister further aware that that concern is amplified particularly at a time when the religious education syllabus has set an example of how we in this country can maintain the priority of our faith and yet respect other faiths? In the light of that, is the Minister aware that the Church very much hopes that the leaders of other faiths will unequivocally condemn the kind of murderous fundamentalism which the latest outrages embody?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I agree with every word that the right reverend Prelate has said. In addition to the murders of which I have spoken, we are urgently looking into the disappearance of at least two other Christian pastors. We know that the Iranian Church leader Banipal Natanael has been detained in Ahwaz and that Hassan Shahjamali has been detained in Shiraz. One other Christian has been released. They are part of a long line of people who have been taken into detention mainly because either they have reverted from Islam to Christianity or they belong to a community such as the Bahai community which is particularly targeted by Iran. We shall do all that we can to help to ensure that other faiths join us in making such representations.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, we on these Benches share the concern of the Government and our other European Union partners. In the light of Iran's deplorable human rights record not just in relation to Church leaders but also in relation to minorities, women and political opponents of the regime, I wonder whether the Government, with our European Union partners, would request the Iranian Government to allow a delegation from Amnesty International to visit Iran to investigate the murders and, indeed, to hold discussions on other human rights matters there.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, one is always willing to request that Iran receive such a delegation from Amnesty International or receive the Secretary-General's special representative. I honestly cannot say with any confidence that such a request would even be listened to. The critical thing is to find a way of changing the minds of the leaders of Iran. That will take some time for all of us who are committed to doing that.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the leading article in The Times that there is blood on the hands of the mullahs in Tehran? Although it will not be possible conclusively to establish their responsibility for those murders to the standard required in a court of law—any more than we can for the deaths of the 26 people who were killed at the shrine of the Imam Reza in Mashad a few weeks ago—is it not a fact that the state, and no other body, has exhibited hostility to the minority religions in Iran; that it is the state which has detained and tortured Medhi Dibaj for 11 years; and that it is the state which has perpetrated over 100 assassinations of its opponents overseas? Is the Minister aware that the mullahs' regime is now compounding its villainy by accusing others of the murders that they have themselves committed? If the special rapporteur, Professor Galindo-Pohl, is not to be admitted to Iran he should nevertheless be asked by the European Union to conduct an inquiry into those atrocious murders from outside the country, requesting through the radio, or whatever other means he can use, evidence from those who have knowledge of the murders.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is not just the state but some extreme groups which are equally guilty of detaining and murdering. We will do all that we can to put that right.