26 August 2014
Tonight I spoke in the Parliament about my late grandmother, her passionate commitment to human rights and our obligation to speak up when we see wrongdoing.
My late grandmother, Jean Stebbins, was a passionate member of Amnesty International. One of my enduring childhood memories was sitting at my grandparents’ sun-soaked dining table in Ivanhoe, where Jean always seemed to be working on a letter addressed to a prisoner or a jailer somewhere in the world. I rise tonight to speak in the same spirit in which Jean Stebbins wrote those letters—not because Australia is perfect but because there is a moral obligation on good people to speak out when we see wrongdoing. Tonight, I will touch on six cases of human rights concerns, in Iran, China, Cameroon, Uzbekistan, Guatemala and Saudi Arabia.
Iranian girl Razieh Ebrahimi was married at the age of 14 and suffered several years of physical and psychological abuse from her husband before killing him in 2010. Despite Razieh being 17 years old at the time of her crime, she now sits on death row. No consideration seems to have been given to her age, or the desperate circumstances under which she committed the act. Since 2009, Iran has executed 11 child offenders.
Chinese scholar and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo was handed an 11-year sentence in 2009 for writing on the issue of political and legal reform in China. Liu Xiaobo was sentenced due to six articles he wrote and distributed between 2005 and 2007 which criticised corruption, censorship and one-party rule, which the court considered to be 'rumour-mongering, slander and smear'. His sentence was also due to his involvement in writing Charter 08, which calls for the protection of human rights and democratic reform. The court considered this an attempt to incite the subversion of the current regime. In November 2010, I argued in this parliament that China needs Liu Xiaobo. It needs his courage to speak truth to power; it needs his advocacy on behalf of the dispossessed; it needs him to argue for an independent legal system, freedom of association and citizens' rights. That is still my view today.
In Cameroon, Jean-Claude Roger Mbede was sentenced to three years prison in 2011 for homosexuality, a criminal offence under the Cameroonian Penal Code. Mbede was arrested by members of the Secretary of State for Defence security service on suspicion of homosexuality, and was held for seven days. Mbede was then charged with homosexuality and attempted homosexuality, and transferred to prison. In July 2012, Mbede was granted provisional release by the Court of Appeal; however, later that year, the three-year prison term was upheld. The case highlights the continued human rights abuses of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of Cameroon.
In Uzbekistan, 2006, Alisher Karamatov and Azam Farmonov—both regional heads of the Independent Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan—were detained, allegedly tortured, charged with extortion and subjected to a trial in which they were declined adequate legal defence. They had attempted to defend the rights of local farmers who had accused local farming officials of corruption and extortion. The men’s legal representatives were given only four days to prepare for the trial in which Karamatov and Farmonov were sentenced to nine years imprisonment.
Norma Cruz, the head of the Survivors Foundation—a women’s rights organisation in Guatemala—has received numerous death threats for her work in pursuing women’s justice. Since 2009, Cruz has received dozens of threats relating specifically to her organisation’s defence of a girl in a particular rape case. Threats arrive by text message and phone calls, and even some of her family members have been subjected to attacks. One man already charged with making death threats has since been released on bail. The serious problem of violence against women appears to be continuing in Guatemala.
In 2008, Raif Badawi, co-founded a website as a platform for open debate on religion in Saudi Arabia. Since 2012, he has been in prison for breaching a law that bans the 'production, preparation, circulation or storage of content that undermines public order, religious values, public decency or privacy'. In May of this year, Mr Badawi was sentenced to another 10 years in jail, plus 1,000 lashes. His lawyer, Waleed Abulkhair, has also been jailed.
My grandmother must have written hundreds of Amnesty letters. She was inspired by the simple idea of Amnesty founder, Peter Benenson: 'if...feelings of disgust could be united into common action, something could be done.' I believe that ideal holds true today and I hope that the governments to which I have referred will consider these six cases.