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Volume 564: debated on Tuesday 18 June 2013

1. What assessment he has made of the open letter presented by an inter-faith delegation to the Minister responsible for the middle east and north Africa, on 14 May 2013, calling for the release of the seven Baha’i leaders in prison in Iran. (159997)

I was proud to receive that letter from a large number of faith leaders in the United Kingdom. It is a powerful expression of support for the imprisoned Baha’i leaders in Iran. I hope that the concerns of those with faith will be heard anew in Tehran, and we continue to call for the release of the seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders.

I thank the Minister for his comments and for receiving the letter and meeting us. On this day 30 years ago, 10 Baha’i women were hanged for refusing to abandon their faith. The continued incarceration of seven leaders is clearly of great importance to the Baha’i community, not just in Iran but around the world. What hope does the Minister have that the change in President may have an impact on the approach towards their persecution?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady not only for asking the question but for being present at the handing over of the letter. It remains the case that the human rights record in Iran is appalling. A lot of hope is being pinned on the possibility of change in Iran. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday, it is rather too early to tell, but it has been reported that the new President talked at yesterday’s press conference about a more inclusive constitution. I am sure that we will wait to see what happens, rather than just judge on words. If there is any opportunity for the release of Baha’i leaders and for better treatment of the Baha’is and all other religious minorities in Iran, it would be warmly welcomed by the House.

There are 7 million Baha’is living all over the world, many thousands in the United Kingdom. Would it be possible to contact the faith and religious groups in this country, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, to see whether they could act as a bridge to the spiritual leader to discuss the release of these prisoners?

The excellent thing about the inter-faith letter that I received on 14 May is that it was signed by a collection of leaders from virtually all the faiths represented in the United Kingdom, and they made exactly that point—that spiritual leaders can speak to spiritual leaders. I have no doubt at all that those in the United Kingdom continue to urge religious tolerance throughout the world and they made that particular point in their letter.