Speak Up on Three Australian Detainees, Iranian Activist Tells Morrison

Author : Richard Ferguson, The Australian

A leading Iranian dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner has ­labelled Scott Morrison’s decision not to comment publicly about three Australians detained in Iran a “big mistake.” Shirin Ebadi was Iran’s first ­female judge and won the 2003 Nobel prize for fighting for women’s rights in her home country, but was forced into exile in London in 2009 because of her resistance to the Islamic regime. Dr. Ebadi said the three Australian detainees were “hostages” and the Prime Minister must speak out more to secure their release. “That’s a big mistake, that’s a big mistake,” she said in London.

“The Prime Minister should very voraciously talk about this issue in public and in diplomatic channels. The Iranian government has taken these three people hostage, and they are not the only ones.” University of Melbourne academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been imprisoned by the Iranian regime over the past year, as have Perth travel bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin. Mr Morrison has repeatedly said he would not comment publicly on the cases of Dr Moore-­Gilbert, Ms King and Mr Firkin in case it hampered the negotiations for their release. “I’ve said on a number of occasions now that it is never in the interest of those who are the subject of these issues for them to be canvassed in discussions in forums like this,” he said in New York last week. “It’s just not in their interests and that’s why I don’t.”

Mr Morrison has been careful to limit his comments about the three detainees ever since news of their imprisonments broke. Family members of the three have also been reluctant to comment, and requested privacy. Despite a limited public response, there have been behind-the-scenes negotiations, with Foreign Minister Marise Payne flying to Bangladesh last month to make a face-to-face plea to her Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Dr Ebadi received an award on Tuesday from Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security for her leadership fighting for women’s and minority rights in a ceremony hosted by Hillary Clinton’s former chief of staff and Barack Obama’s global ambassador for women, Melanie Verneer. Her fellow award recipient in London was Iran’s first female minister for women’s affairs, Mahnaz Afkhami, who served under the Shah. Ms Afkhami was representing her country at the UN in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomenei took power and declared her an enemy of the state. She has since become a leading global campaigner for women’s rights. The Iranian feminist pioneer said Mr Morrison was in a “difficult position” over the detainees and more publicity on the their cases could harm their cases. “This (Iranian) government is very volatile and very unpredictable. Sometimes international pressure helps,” she said. “Sometimes it just makes it worse … It depends what the relationship is … any personal relationships that can be levered, any benefits that can be offered. In terms of human rights, it doesn’t help to bring ­attention to a closed society.”