The International Center for Human Rights (ICHR): 25 conservative members of Canada’s senate have condemned the Iranian regime’s appalling abuse of human rights and called for the immediate release of all of Iran’s unlawfully held political prisoners.
More than 25 Iranian political prisoners were each highlighted in more than 20 speeches delivered on Tuesday. The positive initiative was led by Ontario Senator Linda Frum in an effort to shed a more personal light on the deplorable human rights situation in Iran. Liberal Senators are eager to join the dialogue and will be speaking to the issue as early as today.
Senator Linda Frum spoke out for the three Canadians behind bars, Saeed Malekpour, Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, and Hossen Derakhshan: “There are currently three Canadians being held in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, a grotesquely cruel and inhumane chamber of horrors. Like so many other innocent victims of the Iranian regime, these men have been subjected to beatings, physical and psychological torture and the denial of medical treatment in jail. They have been denied the right to a free and fair trial, and their lives are in grave danger.”
While taking an urgent stance for Hamid Ghassemi-Shall and Hossein Derakhshan, Senator Frum noted: “Of greatest urgency among them is Saeed Malekpour…His death sentence was reinstated in November 2011, and he lives each day with the prospect of imminent execution.”
She also addressed the bigger picture: “The Islamic Republic of Iran has the distinction of holding the world’s highest record for public hangings and executions, and they are second only to China in the total number of political executions. These executions are typically carried out in an especially cruel and sadistic manner. Systematic arrests, lengthy imprisonments and torture are regular occurrences in Iran. Human rights activists and members of ethnic minority groups are among the regime’s favourite targets.”
Ontario Senator, Nicole Eaton, spoke up for imprisoned human rights activist and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh: “In her career, Nasrin represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists and politicians following the disputed June 2009 Iranian presidential elections, as well as prisoners who had been sentenced to death…”
Senator Eaton described the ordeal Nasrin Sotoudeh has had to face in the Iranian justice system. She said: “Despite never having committed a justifiable crime, Nasrin is still in prison. To make matters worse, Nasrin Sotoudeh [had] been denied visitors. Why? Because she [refused] to wear the chador…”
Senator Eaton also made mention of the international awards Nasrin Sotoudeh has won in the past few years. She added: “These are well-deserved awards to a truly inspirational woman.”
Saskatchewan Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk rose to draw attention to the plight of award-winning Iranian journalist Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi. She said: “In June 2009, Dr. Zeidabadi was among dozens of journalists arrested after Iran’s disputed presidential elections…His offence? Well, the Iranians say ‘propagating against the regime,’ ‘collusion to organize riots’ and ‘insulting the Supreme Leader.’ Such are the charges brought against journalists in Iran, which this year ranked 175 out of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index.”
Senator Andreychuk also made note of the two international awards given to Ahmad Zeidabadi in absentia. He said: “The Islamic Republic of Iran has pledged under international law to uphold the freedom of thought, conscience and expression, and to relinquish torture and degrading punishment. Why do these not apply in the case of Dr. Zeidabadi and countless other political prisoners?”
Quebec Senator Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis shared her deep concern over the “eroding human rights situation in Iran” and spoke about student activist Mahdieh Golroo’s and her husband Vahid Lalipour’s unfortunate arrests and subsequent imprisonment as examples. She said: “The arrest of her husband, who had never been involved in political activities, was used during the interrogation of Mahdieh Golroo to force her to collaborate with the Iranian regime…”
Senator Fortin-Duplessis described in great detail the suffering Mahdieh Golroo has endured since the time of her arrest. She noted near the end of her speech: “…I urge the Iranian government immediately to allow United Nations Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed to enter Iran to address the country’s ongoing human rights crisis. The government’s complete lack of cooperation with the Special Rapporteur and its continued refusal to allow him access to the country are an indication that it has no intention of taking meaningful steps to improve the human rights situation. I believe that it is also very important for Canadian companies to live up to their responsibility to society by abstaining from supplying Iran with goods, technology or services that could be used to control and censor the flow of information and communication or to track individuals, including human rights activists.”
Quebec Senator, Jacques Demers expressed his “horror of the treatment of Abdollah Momeni.” He read an excerpt from Abdollah Momeni’s wife’s interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and added: “…[Abdollah Momeni] is taking medication for his ear, which was torn due to the beatings he received in jail.”
Ontario Senator Consiglio Di Nino spoke out in defense of Heshmatollah Tabarzadi. He said: “Heshmatollah Tabarzadi [has] been a prisoner since 2009. He is held in exile in Rajai Shahr Gohardasht prison and endures daily harsh conditions…Honourable senators, let us send a strong message of hope to all Iranians who courageously struggle every day against the tyranny of the Iranian regime and all those who languish in Iranian jails.”
Ontario Senator Salma Ataullahjan spoke out for Behrouz Tavakkoli, a member of the Baha’i community imprisoned in Iran. Senator Ataullahjan said: “Mr. Tavakkoli was a social worker who lost his government job in the early 1980s because of his Baha’i beliefs…He and his wife Tahereh Tuski have two sons, one of whom lives in Ottawa.”
Ontario Senator Doug Finley spoke out for prominent lawyer and human rights activist Abdolfattah Soltani. He said: “Mr. Soltani’s current situation is in a state of limbo because he has not yet been issued a prison sentence. His only crime is being a lawyer and peacefully defending human rights.” Senator Finley added: “Mr. Soltani is a lawyer for numerous imprisoned members of the Baha’i faith. He has been described by his followers as one of the bravest human rights defenders in Iran.”
Manitoba Senator Janis Johnson delivered a heartfelt speech about imprisoned student activist Bahareh Hedayat. She said: “Like the millions of young women of her generation, Bahareh desires rights, dignity, equality, prosperity and freedom and she is one of these young passionate souls who fights to live in a just world. However, in a country where rights to freedom, liberty and equality are violated daily, in a country where human rights advocates are persecuted for speaking out…in a country where simply demanding the end of discriminatory laws against women and girls is considered a threat to national security, she and other young, free minds are risking their lives for their beliefs and rights.”
Senator Johnson finished her speech by reading a passage from a letter Bahareh Hedayat wrote from prison to her husband Amin Ahmadian: “I miss everything…every single thing… every cell in my body is in pain as a result of my longing…I am tired of the small dreams that are draining me of air…Envy…envy…You don’t know what it feels like to be held in this damned cage and watch three people buried in front of your eyes; two of whom, were angels with exemplary characters…You can’t imagine what it feels like…and I hope you never have to experience it.”
Ontario Senator Bob Runciman spoke up for Majid Tavakoli, an imprisoned student leader in Iran. Senator Runciman explained the legal predicament that Majid has faced and detailed the unjust charges and sentence issued to him. He also made note of the physical and psychological pressures Majid Tavakoli has faced in prison.
He added: “Majid is being held in the feared Rajai Shahr Prison…This is a place that could exist only in a country that has no regard for human rights and no respect for human dignity. t is a place designed to break the bodies and the spirits of those imprisoned within its walls. However, Majid is not a man whose spirit is broken easily. When given the opportunity, he continues to urge his fellow students to continue the struggle for freedom.”
New Brunswick Senator Percy Mockler started his speech by stating: “As Canadians, we cannot tolerate the inhumane cruelty the Iranian dictatorship is inflicting on its people. Honourable senators, no one has the right to use their power and that of their country to torture their people.”
He spoke out for Mahvash Sabet, a member of the Baha’i community imprisoned in Iran. He said: “Prior to [Mahvash Sabet’s] arrest, she served as a director of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education where she also has taught psychology and management.”
Quebec Senator Leo Housakos spoke on behalf of imprisoned Kudish student Habib Latifi. He said: “Mr. Latifi is a young Kurdish civil rights activist and a high achieving student…the Iranian judiciary sentenced Mr. Latifi to death in a trial that lasted a few minutes, but his only crime was peacefully defending human rights…Mr. Latifi is in danger of imminent execution.”
Daniel Lang, the Yukon Senator, recognized the bravery of “a fellow human being”, imprisoned student activist Atefeh Nabavi…He said: “In Atefeh’s case, it is apparent that the interrogation she endured and the charges filed against her were mainly due to her family associations. Most of the questions she was asked during her interrogation were regarding her uncle’s activities abroad. In addition, there are no confessions in Atefeh’s case files. Trying and charging a person based on family relations is in contradiction to the principle of “crime and punishment” present in international laws…”
Senator Lang noted that Atefeh Nabavi’s husband Ali is also imprisoned since February 13, 2011.
Nova Scotia Senator Michael L. MacDonald brought the senate’s attention to the unfair treatment of Iranian citizen Rozita Vaseghi. Rozita Vaseghi, a member of the Baha’i community in Iran. He said: “Ms. Vaseghi has endured months in solitary confinement and was issued new charges while imprisoned.”
Newfoundland Senator Elizabeth Marshall talked about the hardships student activist Majid Dorri has had to endure in Iranian prisons and explained the Iranian regime’s “star system” practiced to discipline Iranian university students. He said: “Majid Dorri was a starred student banned from continuing his education…He was recently transferred from Evin prison to Behbahan prison, a location that is 1,000 kilometres away from the residence of his parents…Behbahan, a prison where there are no political prisoners and where most have committed crimes such as murder, drug trafficking and theft. Majid has submitted, through his family, numerous letters and requests to judicial officials. To date he has not received any response from authorities.”
British Columbia Senator Yonah Martin spoke of Yousef Naderkhani, an Iranian Christian. Senator Martin said: “Mr. Naderkhani has lived a humble life as a pastor for a network of Christian house churches. He is an active member of the Protestant Evangelical Church of Iran. He is a devoted husband and father of two young boys ages 9 and 7. This biography would be unremarkable in a country such as Canada; however, in Tehran Mr. Nadarkhani has been sentenced to death. The charge, you ask? Apostasy and renouncing the Islamic faith.”
Prince Edward Island Senator Michael Duffy started off his speech about imprisoned student Hamed Rouhinejad with: “…it saddens me to think that the great people of Iran, a country that in the past has contributed so much to the world, are now subjected to the tyranny of the fanatical regime.”
He added: “Mr. Rouhinejad suffers from multiple sclerosis. He is a sick young man. He is physically weak. He currently sits in prison without access to medical care, and, according to his father, his condition is deteriorating. This is the true face of the Iranian regime — so paranoid, so afraid of dissent that they will go so far as to imprison a sick and diseased young man because of his political beliefs. In Iran, everyone is seen as a threat, even people who would never have the physical strength to affect the regime. How can we call the Iranian justice system anything less than cowardly?”
Nova Scotia Senator Kelvin K. Ogilvie described the prison situation for Arash Sadeghi and the brutal tortures the student activist has endured. He added: “Arash Sadeghi has never received treatment for his many and serious health issues arising from his treatment in prison.”
Dennis Glen Patterson, the Nunavut Senator, spoke out for Saeed Matinpour, an Azerbaijani journalist and civil rights activist. He said: “Mr. Matinpour has endured extreme torture by prison authorities and, although previously healthy, has suffered heart attacks, has severe back pain and has a lung infection as a result.”
New Brunswick Senator Rose-May Poirier spoke on behalf of Mehdi Khodaei, an Iranian student and human rights activist. She said: ”[Mehdi] Khodaei was found guilty of ‘propaganda against the regime’ and ‘acting against national security by organizing gatherings’. In other words, he is being persecuted for having exercised his rights to freedom of expression and freedom of movement.”
British Columbia Senator Nancy Greene Raine spoke extensively about the situations of Kouhyar Goudarzi and his mother Parvin Mokhtare, both imprisoned. She also made note of the suicides of Behnam Ganji and Nahal Sahabi. She added: “Honourable senators, it took three months following Mr. Goudarzi’s second arrest, at the end of last July, for supporters to find out that he is being held in solitary confinement in ward 209 of Evin Prison…”
Quebec Senator Judith G. Seidman spoke out for Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, blogger, human rights activist and an advocate against cyber censorship. Senator Seidman described Hossein Ronaghi Maleki’s deteriorating health and added: “Given [his] dangerous kidney condition, Mr. Maleki’s health is at serious risk…[He] has endured many months in solitary confinement and has been subjected to serious physical and psychological pressure. Mr. Maleki is among Iran’s intellectuals. He should be treated as an outstanding individual rather than locked up and tortured.”
New Brunswick Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen described imprisoned student activist Shabnam Madadzadeh’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment. She added: “I want honourable senators to imagine for a moment how they would feel as parents if [the same] happened to their child…People are routinely tortured and killed in this prison. I want honourable senators to remember our Canadian journalist, Zahra Kazemi, who died of blunt trauma after being arrested for taking pictures in front of the prison.”
New Brunswick Sentor John D. Wallace expressed his “profound concern, sadness, and dismay at the severe human rights abuses being suffered by Seyed Zia Nabavi, an Iranian student.”Senator Wallace described in detail the abuse Zia Nabavi has endured since his arrest and subsequent imprisonment. He also made note that Zia Nabavi is also a “starred student”. Senator Wallace even read an excerpt from an open letter Zia Nabavi had written from prison to the head of human rights for Iran’s judiciary. The long excerpt described the deplorable prison conditions Zia Nabavi if forces to endure in exile in Ahvaz.
He added: “Honourable senators, Seyed Zia Nabavi is not simply a name, or words, or just another picture that appears in a newscast. He is a real, live human being. He is a son, he is a grandson, he is a brother, he is a cousin, and he is a cherished friend to his schoolmates. He is to each of them what our children and friends are to each of us. They are part of us. Seyed Zia Nabavi is the future of the Iranian community. The anguish, sorrow and torment suffered by Zia’s family as a result of his inhumane and unjust imprisonment is plainly evident from his father’s plea.” Senator Wallace also read an excerpt from Zia Nabavi’s father’s interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Saskatchewan Senator Pamela Wallin spoke out in support of Isa Saharkhiz and described the abuse he has endured. At the onset of her speech she said: “Today it is my responsibility to point out the plight of Isa Saharkhiz. He, too, is a real person, with a real family and with sons. Mr. Saharkhiz and I were born in the same year and, like me, he is a long-time journalist, but he is the proof that journalism can be a dangerous craft in a tyrannical and vicious regime such as Iran’s.”
Ontario Liberal Senator Jim Munson adjourned the speeches with: “I think back to 1987 when I was a reporter and stood outside the walls of the notorious Evin Prison for a few days. A Canadian engineer was being held there and it was a pretty scary time, but at least he was freed. I then spent four more days on the Iran-Iraq war front: four days I would not recommend to anyone in this room. I can hardly believe 25 years have gone by. With those memories and with the heartfelt comments of fellow senators I, too, would like to speak to this important issue. We know we can never look the other way when it comes to human rights, particularly in Iran, and especially today in Syria.”