Bishop Pritchard concerned for Iranian exiles

By Ed Thornton, The Church Times
ACO  – THE Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, has expressed con¬cern about “outrageous attempts to intimidate” about 3400 Iranian exiles who are living in Camp Ashraf, a refugee camp about 40 miles north of Baghdad.

His comments came after an attack on the camp on 7 January. Campaigners allege that agents of the Iranian regime in Iraq attacked residents with stones, Molotov cocktails, and sharp-edged objects.

Bishop Pritchard called on the inter¬national community, and in particular the United Nations, for help to ensure that the Camp Ashraf residents, of whom a minority are Iranian Christians, are protected from harassment.

On Thursday of last week, Iranians living in the UK protested outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the treatment of those living in the camp. They delivered a letter to the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, which included calls to end the siege on Camp Ashraf, and to remove loud¬speakers that, cam¬paigners say, are used to intimidate residents.

The Conservative MP Brian Binley addressed the rally and appealed to other bishops in the Lords to “raise their voices”. “There are occasions when I think the Bishops’ voice could be felt more powerfully on issues of freedom and democracy,” he said.

David Amess, the Conservative MP who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See, called on the Foreign Secretary “to urgently press the Iraqi government to halt this psychological torture that continues day and night” at Camp Ashraf.

Mr Amess was due to travel to Rome this week to deliver a letter to the Pope, calling on him to support the Camp Ashraf residents and “condemn in any way possible the pressures being put on them”. Mr Amess said that he would also seek the support of the Bishop of Chelms¬ford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, whose family lives in his constituency.

The Labour MP Steve McCabe, who also spoke at the rally, said: “The simple fact is that [Camp] Ashraf does represent the opposition to what is happening in Iran. That is why the Iranian authorities are determined to crush it.”

In 2009, the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed concern about “human-rights violations” at the camp after another attack (News, 25 September 2009).

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