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(Sydney) – Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop should raise human rights concerns with senior Iranian officials during her visit to Tehran on April 18, 2015, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the foreign minister. Bishop is the first senior figure in the Australian government to visit Iran in more than a decade.

Bishop should press the government of President Hassan Rouhani to end widespread restrictions on freedom of expression and association, persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, discrimination against women, and the alarming rate of executions, including of child offenders.

“This rare visit is a golden opportunity for Australia to demonstrate its concerns for Iranians’ human rights,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “Despite hopes for improvements under President Rouhani, repression continues unabated in Iran, leading people to flee to seek asylum elsewhere, including in Australia.”

Bishop is likely to ask Iran to take back failed asylum seekers, following an April 11 statement by the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott who told reporters “we’ll be talking to the Iranian government about taking back people who are Iranian citizens, because they deserve to be in Iran.” In 2012-2013, at least 70 percent of Iranians claiming asylum in Australia were determined to be legitimate refugees. Bishop should press Iranian officials to address the violations that compel people to flee Iran and to seek protection elsewhere, Human Rights Watch said.

Iranian security forces arrested several thousand protesters, political opposition members, and activists following the disputed 2009 presidential election. Rouhani won the presidency in the subsequent presidential election, in 2013. But scores of those detained in 2009 remain locked up or under house arrest, including the former opposition figures and presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Iran has also has among the world’s highest numbers of journalists and social media activists in prison.

Bishop should also raise the issue of the death penalty with Iranian officials, Human Rights Watch said. In 2014, Iran carried out the second-highest number of executions of any country in the world, exceeded only by China. Nearly half were on drug-related charges. At least 14 were child offenders, according to Amnesty International, making Iran the country with the world’s highest number of executions of people who committed crimes when they were children.

“After her strong statements against the death penalty in Indonesia, Bishop should use her Tehran visit to show that the government has a consistent, principled position by calling for a halt to Iran’s seemingly insatiable appetite for executions,” Pearson said.

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