“Iran Accountability Week on Parliament Hill was an opportunity to shed light on religious freedom and recent changes in Canadian policy towards Iran. I co-hosted the week long events with colleagues from the House of Commons. Accountability week activities included statements and questions in the House of Commons and the Senate, the presentation of petitions and a speaker’s evening.
On May 10, I rose in the Chamber to participate in a Senate Inquiry into Iranian prisoners, in the hopes of drawing attention to the human rights atrocities taking place every single day in Iran. During the Inquiry, I was joined by 15 other Senators who each spoke about a prisoner wrongfully detained.
I believe Canada is at a critical point in terms of Iranian policy; it should choose to judge Iran on its actions rather than its words.”
Senator Linda Frum
I would like to thank the senators who will join with me in this inquiry into the grotesque human rights abuses that take place inside Iran every single day and especially inside Iran’s prisons, where prisoners routinely endure isolation, torture, rape and mock executions.
Each of us will highlight the case or cases of unlawfully held political prisoners. We are here to let these prisoners know and to let the regime know that the Senate of Canada is paying witness.
The prisoner that I wish to advocate on behalf of today is an Iranian with a strong connection to Canada, Saeed Malekpour. This, sadly, is not the first occasion on which I have described the plight of Saeed Malekpour in this chamber, nor the first time I have called for his release. Saeed has been incarcerated for eight years now.
I rise today to bring to your attention the inhumane and unlawful treatment of Ali Amir Amirgholi, a 33-year-old human rights activist and former university student who is currently held in Ward 8 of Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
Colleagues, Evin Prison is one of the most horrific prisons in the world.
Despite Amir’s being a prisoner of conscience, he is reportedly being held in a cell with dangerous prisoners who suffer from life- threatening diseases, rather than a cell for political prisoners. Colleagues, if the Iranian authorities have their way, Amir will be a prisoner for the next 20 years, if he survives his confinement.
I was alarmed to recently learn that 2015 was one of the darkest years in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Multiple sources, including the United Nations and Amnesty International, have reported more than 900 executions in Iran in 2015 alone. That’s reportedly the highest number of executions in Iran since 1989. As horrifying as this may be, the Iranian government’s death penalty record has not had an impact on its relations with the international community. I’m extremely saddened to observe that the Iranian authorities are increasing the rate of executions in Iran at the same time as the country is emerging from years of isolation.
Today I would like to highlight the cases of four political prisoners who are on death row in Iran. I must note that these political prisoners are only a handful of dozens more who are sentenced to death and are currently awaiting execution.
I stand before you in solidarity with students who have been imprisoned in Iran, and I will be highlighting two such cases for you today.
Sakhi Reigi, an Iranian from the country’s Baluch ethnic minority, was a blogger and university student majoring in software development when he was arrested by Iranian authorities in the summer of 2009. He was 31 years old at the time of his arrest and had only two more terms to complete before graduating.
Sakhi was also a student volunteer for the presidential campaign of Mir Hossein Mousavi, and his arrest occurred only a few days after the results of the 2009 Iranian presidential election were announced. An Iranian court subsequently sentenced Sakhi to 20 years in prison for allegedly acting against national security and spreading propaganda against the regime.
I also rise today to draw your attention to the plight of three Kurdish journalists imprisoned in Iran: Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand, Kamal Sharifi and Adnan Hassanpour.
Mohammed Sadiq Kaboudvand was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to serve nine years and ten months in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. As founder of the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization and editor of a weekly publication called Payam-e Mardom — The Peoples’ Message — he was accused of “acting against national security,” spreading “propaganda. . . ,” “opposing Islamic penal laws. . .” and “advocating on behalf of political prisoners.” Similarly, Adnan Hassanpour was arrested in 2007 on comparable charges. His death sentence was reduced to a 15-year prison term to be served in the Zahedan central prison.
I also rise today to speak of Nahid Gorji, an ordinary Iranian citizen and a mother, like many of us, who was arrested by Iranian intelligence agents in October 2014 during a midnight raid on her home in the northern Iranian city of Mashhad.
According to multiple confirmed sources, Nahid is being punished for something that many of us do every day — for simply going on to Facebook and chatting, and other activities on social media.
Nahid was held in prison for one full year without any charges before finally being released on bail in October 2015, the anniversary of her arrest.
Honourable senators, Zeynab Jalalian was 25 years old in March 2008 when she was arrested by Iranian authorities and locked up behind bars. She is now 34 years old and still languishing in prison.
Zeynab, who is a Kurdish women’s rights activist, spent the first two years of her imprisonment held without charge. During this time, she was subjected to constant threats to her life and endured long periods in solitary confinement. She was brutally interrogated and tortured, both psychologically and physically, to confess to the accusations against her, such as supporting Kurdish opposition groups through engaging in armed operations.
I want to begin by congratulating Senator Frum for launching this inquiry. It is serious and important business, and we are grateful to her for beginning it.
It has been suggested that the Government of Canada’s policy of certain reengagement with Iran is wrong because of the abuses that occur in that country. My own view is that the policy is right, in large measure because of the abuses that occur in that country, because we cannot hope to have any influence at all on people with whom we do not even speak.
I shall never forget, years ago, when I was part of the parliamentary delegation to Cuba, meeting in the Canadian embassy, at the invitation of the ambassador, Cubans who had done hard time in prison for daring to exercise freedom of speech. It meant a lot to them to meet us. We could not have given them face-to-face encouragement had Canada, like the United States, boycotted all things Cuban. I think we made a difference in Cuba because we remained engaged, and I hope that we will be able, over time, in at least some small way, to make a difference in Iran.
I rise to speak in support of Senator Frum’s inquiry regarding human rights abuses in Iran. I thank her very much for her intervention.
In particular, I would like to highlight the case of political prisoner Mohammad Saber Malek Raisi, a member of Iran’s Baluch ethnic minority, who was arrested in 2009 at the age of 15.
Now, one person’s political prisoner can sometimes be another’s terrorist, but by all accounts Mohammad is not a terrorist. According to Amnesty International, the sole reason that Mohammad was arrested was to force his older brother, Abdol Rahman, to return to Iran after fleeing in 2009.
Honourable senators, multiple Iranian sources have reported that the election of a more moderate Iranian president in 2013 has not helped improve the human rights situation in the country. Despite the change in leadership, hundreds of Iranians remain behind bars as political prisoners, many of them enduring torture and long durations in solitary confinement.
I wish to share with you my particular concern for Mr. Saeed Shirzad, a prisoner of conscience who was detained in Raja’i Shahr Prison, regarded as one of Iran’s harshest jails. A non- violent civil rights activist, Saeed was first arrested in August 2012 along with dozens of others for volunteering in an independent initiative that provided relief to earthquake victims of the East Azerbaijan province of Iran.
Saeed was released after 19 days of detention and continued his peaceful human rights activism. Sources close to him say his advocacy work was focused on defending the rights of child labour workers in Iran and providing educational support to the children of political prisoners.
I rise today to support teachers in Iran. I’ll tell you the story of Esmail Abdi, a high school math teacher and general secretary of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association.
Mr. Abdi was arrested on June 27, 2015. His apparent crime was attempting to leave Iran to obtain a Canadian travel visa. Mr. Abdi had been scheduled to attend the seventh World Congress, held by Education International here in Ottawa. Soon after his arrest, he was transferred to the notorious Evin Prison, run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, elements of which are listed by Canada as designated terrorist entities.
Honourable senators, there was a time when I was a reporter. In the late 1980s, I was assigned from London to go to Iran. We were welcomed; we were actually given an invitation by the Iranian government at the time for Western journalists to go there. I knew this trip wasn’t going to go very well when we were pinned down in Shatt al-Arab waterway with Iran and Iraq still fighting. It was a pretty horrible week in my life. I never thought I would say it — and I never say publicly — but when they took us back in a Hercules to Tehran, “My goodness, it feels good to be back in Tehran.”
However, when you get back to Tehran, they had us journalists walking in. They had on the carpet the picture of the President of the United States. You had to take a running jump; they wanted you to wipe your feet on the face of the President of the United States. I wasn’t going to do that, so I had to do a running jump to get over this carpet.
I want to speak on behalf of Kurdish political prisoners Zanyar and Loghman Moradi. These two family friends were unlawfully arrested by Iranian authorities in the summer of 2009 and detained for the first year of their detention without charge. They were eventually accused of murdering the son of an Imam, and they were sentenced to death in December 2010 during a sham trial. To date, Iranian authorities have never presented a single piece of evidence other than forced confessions to support the allegations against these two men. Just like other political prisoners in Iran, Zanyar and Loghman have not had access to their lawyer or a chance to defend themselves in court. Human rights groups and United Nations experts have stated on multiple occasions that Zanyar and Loghman were brutally and physically tortured during their interrogation and throughout their imprisonment. Quoting witness statements, Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation on Human Rights in Iran has said that Zanyar and Loghman were compelled to confess to allegations of murder after being severely beaten and threatened with rape.
Honourable senators, I rise to express my horror of the treatment of Omid Kokabee, a University of Texas graduate student in physics, who has been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison for the last five years because of his refusal to assist the Iranian authorities with questionable scientific research. As if this weren’t unjust and outrageous enough, his lawyer announced that Omid was recently diagnosed with kidney cancer. It is not clear when the tumour began to form, but there are reports from 2014 that Omid was denied medical care after he had complained to the authorities about pain in his kidneys. As Canadians, we cannot tolerate the inhumane cruelty the regime in Iran is inflicting on individuals like Omid Kokabee.
The Iranian scientist, now 34 years old, was arrested by regime authorities in January 2011 at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport. He was on his way back to the United States to continue his postdoctoral studies and had been in Iran on a visit to see his family.
I would like to take this opportunity to recognize, on behalf of the people that I represent in New Brunswick, the leadership of Senator Frum into this inquiry. In the last week I have had a number of New Brunswickers of Iranian descent saying it was a step in the right direction.
On May 1, the people of Iran recognize May Day. I want to share this with you. International Workers’ Day, although not an officially recognized day in Iran, Iranians gathered to peacefully call for an end to worker repression and government corruption.
Iranian authorities have always approached the day with violent crackdowns, which usually result in the arrests of innocent workers and activists. Honourable senators, the Iranian government does not allow its citizens to exercise their fundamental and universal rights, and as a result does not tolerate labour unions or protests by workers.
I rise today to draw your attention to the plight of human rights activist Arash Sadeghi and his wife Golrokh Iraee. On February 21 of this year, a Tehran appeals court confirmed prison sentences for them. Arash is condemned to a total of 19 years in prison for outlandish charges like gathering and colluding against national security, propaganda against the regime, spreading lies on the Internet, and insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khamenei. Golrokh is sentenced to six years in prison for vague charges like propaganda against the regime and blasphemy. Sources close to the couple say the court justified the rulings by citing nonviolent activities like hosting on Facebook, participating in a peaceful protest gathering, and having contact with human rights activists and groups outside Iran. Arash and Golrokh were sentenced to prison by Abolghassem Salavati, a corrupt individual who has been identified as a key figure in the Iranian government’s push to stifle free speech.
Honourable senators, I rise today to inform you about the plight of two musicians: Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi; and a filmmaker, Hossein Rajabian. These three Iranian artists may be thrown into prison at any moment just for their art. Human rights groups warn that their arrest is imminent; Iranian authorities have sent their case files to the Office of the Implementation of Sentences at Evin Prison in Tehran. This can all be seen on the website iranhr.net.
They are two friends who ran a popular music streaming website called BargMusic. Unfortunately, the Iranian authorities have confiscated the website and shut it down, eliminating all the hard work these two young artists put into the website. Additionally, Mehdi had just completed his first musical album and was about to release on it online. But he never got the chance to do so, because agents of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps confiscated all his music. According to human rights reports, the album told the story of Iran’s history through instrumentals played by Mehdi on his sitar. Hossein is Mehdi’s brother. He had just finished producing a film, entitled The Upside Down Triangle, about a woman’s right to divorce in Iran.