|Canadian citizen, Saeed Malekpour is on death row in Iran awaiting execution. Malekpour is convicted for operating pornographic websites. Iranian law is based on Sharia.|
Three Canadians in Iranian prison are left to fend for themselves, as the Canadian government says that it will encourage other governments to help them. The same Canadian government has allowed a Canadian citizen to remain in Guantanamo Bay. (The only western country to do so.)
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The FDA strives to be neutral and objective on all issues. This includes issues pertaining to the Middle East region, which has been the scene of intense conflict for centuries. The FDA’s neutrality is not to be distorted or misconstrued to imply covert support or non-support of any ethnic group, religion, or nationality.
Fears heightened for Canadians in Iranian prison
By Olivia Ward, Foreign Affairs Reporter (Toronto Star)
While Iran’s foes applaud Ottawa’s sudden move to close its Tehran embassy and expel Iranian diplomats, three men from Canada who are jailed in notoriously brutal Evin Prison have little to cheer about.
Saeed Malekpour and Hamid Ghassemi-Shall are on death row awaiting execution, on charges human rights advocates call politically motivated. Hossein Derakhshan, known as Iran’s “blogfather” for introducing blogging to the Islamic Republic, is serving 19 ½ years.
“I am very disappointed,” says Ghassemi-Shall’s wife, Antonella Mega. “I had hoped there could be a dialogue between the two countries. I am convinced that is the only way that Hamid will be released.”
Ghassemi-Shall, a 43-year-old Toronto shoe salesman and Canadian citizen, has been imprisoned since he was arrested during a family visit in 2008. He was tried and sentenced to death on espionage charges. Malekpour, 36, a Canadian resident and web developer arrested the same year while visiting his dying father, was charged with masterminding a network of websites used to upload pornographic images.
Both men were tried without any defence, and tortured under interrogation.
Last month a few pardons were handed out to condemned prisoners in Iran. But, Mega said, her husband “choked back tears” during a brief phone call from the prison when he learned he was not among them.
Iranian officials in Ottawa had invited Mega to come to Tehran this spring to make a plea for her husband’s life. But as relations chilled between Iran and the West over its nuclear ambitions, threats against Israel and support of the Syrian regime, Mega’s hopes of bringing Ghassemi-Shall home crumbled.
“I don’t know where we will go from here,” she said.
Bryon Wilfert, a former Liberal MP for Richmond Hill, said closing a channel of communication with Iran is regrettable but that “the signals were there” for a total break in Canadian relations with Iran for some time. Until his defeat in the 2011 election, Wilfert had frequent contacts with Iranian embassy officials over human rights cases, and pressed the case of Malekpour, his then constituent, with some positive results.
But even earlier relations were becoming increasingly strained, he said. They took a turn for the worse in 2003, when Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died in Evin Prison, apparently after horrific torture. Since then, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, belligerent stance toward Israel and backing for militant groups have also angered the Harper government.
“(Ottawa) took a long time making the decision to close their visa section from Tehran and moving everything to Ankara,” Wilfert said. “The attack on the British embassy in Tehran” by a mob of students last November “was obviously the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
But the abruptness of Ottawa’s move to sever relations has puzzled even some diplomats.
“I don’t see any compelling reason to close the embassy,” said Ken Taylor, the Canadian hero of the 1979 hostage crisis, who helped six American diplomats escape from Tehran. “I don’t see heightened jeopardy for Canada, we’re at the same risk as everybody else. We’re not as high profile as the British.”
Rather than expel the Iranian diplomats from Ottawa, Taylor added, Canada might have whittled the size of the staff, leaving channels of communication open for handling sensitive diplomatic cases.
There are indications that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is preparing to make alternative arrangements for dealing with the plight of the prisoners.
“I have a meeting scheduled with Baird on Sept. 24,” said Liberal MP and former justice minister Irwin Cotler, who advocates for Iranian political prisoners but backed the severing of diplomatic ties. “One of the things on that agenda is how will this impact the political prisoners.”
Cotler closely monitors Iran’s threats to its citizens and the international community. And he says, “On every front they have been getting worse,” as sanctions against Iran bite more deeply. “I have never seen a month like this August.”
Amnesty International released a report Friday that raised fears for the lives of 22 prisoners in Iranian jails who are scheduled for execution Saturday, and made a plea to have their sentences commuted. It was not known if Malekpour or Ghassemi-Shall were among them.
Ottawa’s severance of diplomatic ties has also raised “questions and concerns” for the men’s future, said Alex Neve, who heads Amnesty International Canada. “We understand many reasons why (the government) is anxious, frustrated and worried about the situation in Iran and the role it plays in the region, and its human rights record.
“At the same time we are aware of the fact that there are cases where the very lives of a Canadian and permanent resident hang in the balance. It will obviously be crucial for Canada to move forward in a way that will not jeopardize their cases.”
This article sheds light on the rashness of the current Canadian government's decision to close its Iranian embassy.
Harper says nothing Iran does in wake of embassy closing would surprise him
By Mike Blanchfield (The Canadian Press)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA—With Iran branding his government a hostile stooge of Israel and Britain, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Sunday that nothing Iran does in response to Canada’s severing of diplomatic ties would surprise him.
Harper also pledged that Canada will work through its allies to help three of its citizens still in Iranian prisons. Questions surrounding their fate have become a live issue following Canada’s abrupt decision to close its Tehran embassy and expel Iranian diplomats from Canada.
An Iranian lawmaker said his government would have a firm response, while a foreign ministry spokesman called the Harper government hostile and racist, and accused it of doing the bidding of Israel and Britain, according to Iran’s Mehr news agency.
Harper said Canadian diplomats were recalled because of Iran’s “capacity for increasingly bad behaviour.”
“So, nothing would surprise me. But that is all the more reason why it’s essential that our Canadian personnel no longer be present,” Harper told reporters on the final day of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit.
“Do I anticipate specific actions? No, not necessarily, but as I say, we should all know by now that this is a regime that does not stop at anything. So that’s just the reality of the situation.”
The Conservative government announced the Tehran pullout just hours after Harper arrived Friday in Russia’s Pacific port city of Vladivostok for the APEC leaders’ summit.
The West’s continuing standoff with Iran was one of several global security issues to rear its head at the 21-nation meeting, along with the crisis in Syria, and regional tension in the South and East China Seas.
Harper came to APEC to advance his government’s pro-Asia trade agenda. And he said the security issues didn’t distract his fellow leaders from the economic focus of the summit.
But Harper still talked about global security in his meeting Sunday with Chinese President Hu Jintao. China’s proposed take over of an Alberta oil and gas company wasn’t mentioned in the 30-minute discussion because it is under review by his government, Harper said.
Canada’s surprise embassy closure continues to send ripples across the globe — it topped the websites of two Iranian news agencies — as the West grapples with trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Iran's currency, the rial, plunged to an all-time low on Sunday, exchange traders said, as Western nations sought to further isolate the country economically and diplomatically.
Iran’s Fars news agency said the country’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, cancelled a planned visit to Canada to protest the embassy closure.
Tehran’s foreign ministry spokesman accused the Harper government of “extremist” views and said it was “unwise” for Canada to have set a five-day deadline for Iranian diplomats to leave the country.
The Iranian foreign ministry also said the embassy closure was “unprofessional, unconventional, and unjustifiable.”
The Foreign Affairs Department has warned Canadians against travelling to Iran, singling out dual Canadian-Iranians as especially vulnerable because Tehran does not recognize their new citizenship.
The heated rhetoric has raised questions about the fate of Canadians in Iranian prisons, including two on death row.
“We will continue both from Ottawa, through our partners and allies to continue to advocate on behalf of Canadians who have those kinds of difficult consular situations, legal situations in Iran,” Harper said.
Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossen Derakhsan, 35, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for his writings, which inspired other Iranian reform bloggers.
Toronto’s Ghassemi-Shall, 43, who emigrated to Canada after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, faces a death sentence after being charged with espionage when he returned to visit family four years ago.
His wife, Antonella Mega, said she had been seeking the embassy’s help to clarify reports her husband’s death sentence has been suspended, and is unsure how effective the government’s promise to make appeals through its allies will be.
“I’m not sure how you instill a dialogue when you just cut off the dialogue,” she said.
“Canada needs to be present. It can’t do it by proxy entirely,” Mega added.
Saeed Malekpour, a web programmer from Richmond Hill, Ont. is on death row after being charged with promoting pornographic websites. He says he was tortured into confessing to crimes.
They are awaiting their fate in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where Zahra Kazemi, a freelance photographer with dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship, was tortured and killed in 2003. Canada later recalled its ambassador, calling Kazemi’s killing a state-sanctioned murder.
Until Friday, the Kazemi incident marked a new low in Canadian-Iranian relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The Canadian embassy was closed for eight years after Canadians spirited America diplomats out of Tehran in 1980 during the U.S. hostage crisis.
NDP foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar has called the latest embassy closure bizarre and irresponsible, saying it has removed Canada as a potential player in the Middle East.
But the Harper government should have pulled its diplomats out of Tehran long ago, said Fen Hampson, head of the global security program at the Waterloo, Ont.-based Centre for International Governance Innovation.
“Iran has consistently shunned and snubbed us and showed flagrant disregard for the basic rights of Canadians since the brutal murder of Zahra Kazemi,” Hampson told The Canadian Press Sunday.
“Those who argue we need to maintain consular services ignore the fact our diplomats have been ineffective in defending the interests and rights of Iranian Canadians when they have gone home and run afoul of the regime.”
Questions to Readers:
Do you think the Canadian government acted in the best interests of the three Canadians in Iranian prison when it abruptly closed its Iranian embassy? If the Canadian government did not act in their best interest, do you think the government was justified in closing its embassy and in light of no major incident?