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Canada Challenges Iranian ‘culture of impunity’ at Ottawa Conference

The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights in Canada held a press conference in Ottawa on 9 May to highlight the ongoing and extensive human rights violations in Iran. The Centre organises ‘Iran Accountability Week’ every year in partnership with Parliamentarians from all political parties. Representatives from Canada’s House of Commons and the Senate discussed Canada’s policy towards Iran.

The speakers at the conference on 9 May aimed to,

“highlight the ongoing mass domestic repression and human rights abuses in Iran, and how Canada can challenge the culture of impunity that underpins it – specifically through targeted Magnitsky sanctions on the individual architects of repression”.

Speakers at this year’s conference included family members of foreign and dual national detainees such as Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of unjustly imprisoned British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. He spoke on behalf of the families of foreign hostages in Iran,

“For me the issue is one of approach and accountability. After three years there needs to be real calling out about their hostage taking”

Other speakers included Masih Alinejad, renowned Iranian journalist, author, human rights activist and founder of the White Wednesday Campaigns for women’s freedom in Iran, and Shaparak Shajarizadeh, an avid supporter of the #WhiteWednesdays movement, who was jailed, tortured and fled to Canada before she was sentenced to 20 years in prison in absentia. Her lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, has now been sentenced to 38 years and 148 lashes for defending her and many other jailed women’s rights activists. Both Masih and Shaparak were interviewed by the International Observatory of Human Rights last month and highlighted the need for the international community to be aware of the violations taking place in Iran.

Nobel Peace prize winner and human rights defender Shirin Ebadi spoke at the conference and explained the magnitude of the dangers the families and their imprisoned loved ones experienced,

“Several people have lost their lives due to opinions…families are threatened not to speak about that”

Previous work

The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human rights in Canada has worked on campaigning to end human rights violations in Iran. The centre is founded by Irwin Cotler Former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, who unveiled the project ‘Defending Political Prisoners’ in August 2018 with the aim of advocating for a number of political prisoners worldwide.

Earlier this year in February, the centre issued a petition to the government of Canada and highlighted the case of Saeed Malekpour, the unjustly detained web designer who became a permanent Canadian resident in 2004. Saeed has now been imprisoned in Iran for over 10 years on spurious charges of allegedly creating a web program designed to allow users to share photographs on the internet which, the Iranian authorities said was used on pornographic websites – although not by Saeed.

The petition was initiated by Maryam Malekpour, Saeed’s sister, and called upon the Government of Canada to personally and publicly call for the release of Saeed Malekpour. It also reaffirmed the Canadian government’s recognition of Iranian human rights violations. At its close on 8 April 2019 the petition had 557 signatures.

In December 2018, the centre issued a report calling for the use of Magnitsky laws to enforce sanctions on 19 Iranian high-level officials for their complicity in repression of Iranian civil society. In December 2018, Irwin Cotler said,

“It is crucial that the international community not turn a blind eye to what I have termed the five-fold Iranian threat: the nuclear threat; state-sponsorship of terror; regional hegemonic aggression including mass criminality in Syria, state-sanctioned incitement to genocide; and massive domestic repression.”

Prior to this, the centre submitted a complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention asking them to initiate an investigation declaring Saeed’s detention to be arbitrary and in violation of international law.

Response

Canada’s Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer delivered a speech outlining his policy on Iran on 7 May,

Canada must “do all we can to ensure that the people of Iran enjoy the freedoms that we enjoy.”

“I will immediately act to list Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity, as well as make full use of the Magnitsky Law to punish Iran’s worst human rights offenders,”

The Trudeau government voted to list the IRGC as a terrorist group in June 2018, but has yet to implement the policy.

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