November 22, 2021
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I am so pleased to rise and speak in support of this motion today and thank the Member for Moore for his initiative as well as the work of many others in this place including the Member for Wills and the Member for Newcastle.
I am proud to represent a strong Baha’i community on the border in Albury Wodonga.
Recently, I met with local leaders Ben Missaghi and Vida Bayani to hear how the Baha’i community has fared during the COVID pandemic and was inspired by efforts throughout their community to come together and support one another.
The community held weekly and fortnightly zoom meetings to keep in touch, share prayers, offer support, and honor the idea of family and friendship as fundamental to our lives.
Ben and Vida also spoke of the timely publication of Light and Mercy – a compilation of Baha’i texts about mental health and resilience during difficult times.
When restrictions eased, the community also organized day trips across the region to museums and other social events so that families and friends could connect again.
Ben also spoke proudly about the near 100 per cent vaccination rate in the community – a remarkable effort.
The principles of the Baha’i faith were central to this accomplishment, particularly the ideas of unity and the importance of placing community needs first.
What a beautiful message to convey to this House.
I also had the opportunity to speak with Ben and Vida about this motion, and the desperate situation the Baha’i community in Iran finds itself in.
Baha’is, who are Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, are routinely arrested, detained, and imprisoned in Iran.
The Baha’i are barred from holding government jobs, and their shops and businesses are routinely closed or discriminated against. Many are also unable to attend schooling, and those who try to organize education for the Baha’i informally are often arrested and detained too.
The persecution and human rights abuses are countless.
Since the formation of the Islamic Republic in Iran in 1979, tens of thousands of Iranian Baha’is have lost homes, jobs, pensions, savings, and businesses, have seen their shrines and cemeteries desecrated.
It is difficult to imagine the true impact of this persecution, and it was heartbreaking to hear Ben and Vida covey the situation in Iran.
Earlier this year, I was pleased to co-sign an open letter from Members of this place to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, calling out the treatment of the Baha’is in Iran, particularly the rise in violence against farmers at the village level.
The global Baha’i community have also led powerful campaigns to have the situation in Iran exposed in the United National General Assembly and Human Rights Council, and work with other international human rights NGOs on advocacy campaigns speaking on behalf of their sisters and brothers in Iran who cannot speak up without fear of reprisal.
The Baha’i are peaceful and non-violent.
In Iran, the Baha’i work tirelessly for the betterment of their society despite ongoing persecution. This faith and resilience is powerful, Mr. Speaker, and I respect it deeply.
Ben shared this passage with me to read in Parliament:
“The Iranian Baha’i deeply love their homeland, despite all the suffering they have endured. Regardless of the restrictions imposed on them, they fulfill their spiritual and social responsibilities. Through participation in constructive discourse with neighbors, co-workers, friends, and acquaintances, they nonetheless continue to contribute to the advancement of their nation and its people.”
What a powerful message to convey to this House.
I want to thank Ben and Vida once again for sharing these messages from the Baha’i community in Albury Wodonga with me and this Parliament.
I also want to acknowledge Dr Hamid Golshan who was unable to attend our meeting due to work commitments as a doctor at the Albury Wodonga Hospital who felt the full brunt of a local COVID outbreak only weeks ago.
The Baha’i give so much to our border communities, and it is my pleasure to recognize their contributions and their message on behalf of the Baha’i community in Iran.
I commend this motion to the House.