Thank you very much.
Chairman Levitt, distinguished members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify. It's a really great honour to be testifying with Payam, whose courageous work I greatly admire.
I applaud the committee for holding Iran to account for its poor human rights record especially at a time when the world seems obsessed with Iran's nuclear agreement and the happenings in Washington. That human rights record lies at the root of the regime's destabilizing behaviour across the region and its threat to the world.
I hope you have before you my written testimony. I'm going to summarize the basics as well as the policy recommendations.
The nationwide protests that Payam talked about began to consume Iran in late December. They reflect long-standing frustration with Tehran's repression, corruption, economic mismanagement, water shortages, and foreign adventurism. It's important to understand that the country has been witnessing hundreds of these protests over the past few years, but the latest demonstrations really mark the first major, widely covered eruption since the brutally repressed 2009 Green Revolution. These protests represent a potential inflection point in the clerical regime's long-term viability. The protestors have not only challenged specific policies but they're also challenging the government's very legitimacy as a representative of the Iranian people.
Chants of "death to Khamenei" and "death to Rouhani", referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and to President Hassan Rouhani, have routinely punctuated these mass demonstrations. The uprising also highlights the broken promises of President Rouhani, who rose to power in 2013. His re-election last year came with repeated pledges to end the regime's long-standing domestic repression. In 2016, he released a detailed charter on citizens' rights that vowed to advance fundamental democratic norms including freedom of speech, press, religion, and association, as well as fair trials, due process, and governmental transparency and accountability.
However, as the late Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, noted just before her death in February, improvements in Tehran's human rights record under Rouhani are "not forthcoming”. Iran's actions, she wrote, "contrast starkly" with its rhetoric. The regime has continued to impose arbitrary arrests, large numbers of executions, restrictions on speech and assembly, torture in prison, and discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities. Rouhani, she said in an October 2017 press conference, is going to "have to walk the talk."
The protests have largely faded from the headlines in recent weeks but they continue to unfold throughout the country. In April, mass demonstrations began in the city of Kazeroon. "Our enemy is right here. They're lying when they say it's America!" protestors chanted. Demonstrators also gathered in Iran's Kurdish regions to highlight their economic plight. In Isfahan, protesters drew attention to chronic water shortages. In March, Iranians protested against the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the regime's major propaganda organ. In recent days, Iranians have been protesting Tehran's censorship by writing anti-regime slogans on Iranian banknotes and posting them on Twitter.
As a noted expert observed, "A careful review of the evidence clearly indicates that the protests were not a short-lived phenomenon with temporary impact.” Rather, they marked a turning point and permanent change in the trend of events and political calculations in Iran.
One must understand that this record of domestic repression stems not merely from the regime's ambition to keep and hold power but very much from the radical ideology that views the Islamic Republic as having revolutionary ambitions. Iran's human rights abuses reflect its determination to curb any behaviour at home that contravenes its religious world view and its regional and global ambitions. This reality underlies the systematic and pervasive reach of Iran's repressive state. The regime effectively rules through fear, employing imprisonment, torture, and executions to enforce its Islamist creed. It tolerates no dissent. It targets ethnic and religious minorities, journalists, and political activists. It seeks to control the public square by restricting Internet use, particularly social media. It arrests Iranians simply for criticizing their leaders online, and it dramatically limits the role of women, who face a range of discriminatory laws.
At the heart of this discrimination is Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC. This is the regime's praetorian guard. When Iranian citizens protested in 2009 and in 2017, it was the IRGC that arrested and killed demonstrators. The IRGC, created in 1979 to defend the Islamic Revolution at home and abroad, can incarcerate virtually anyone, anytime, for any reason, without consideration for human rights.
It controls ward 2A of Evin prison, where widespread and institutionalized torture of political prisoners routinely occurs.
My written testimony goes in great detail through a range of human rights atrocities. Payam has talked about some of them. I won't go into much detail on executions or on religious freedom, as this committee has heard much testimony on that.
On freedom of speech and the press, Reporters Without Borders has described Iran as one of the world's biggest prisons for media personnel.
The malign treatment of prisoners is actually worth detailing once again. They face horrific treatment in prison, marked by torture, poor sanitary conditions, and the denial of access to medical care. According to the former special rapporteur Asma Jahangir, imprisoned Iranians have experienced “sexual violence, including rape; blunt force trauma; positional torture; burns; sharp force; electric shocks; use of water...pharmacological torture; asphyxiation; amputation; sleep deprivation; threats and humiliation; and prolonged solitary confinement, including on the basis of ethnicity, religion, political views, or having transgressed expected social norms.” Freedom from Torture, a London-based advocacy group, cites “widespread use and acceptance by the government of these interrogation and intimidation tactics.”
Payam has detailed the repression and killing of Canadian Iranian dual nationals. Iran continues to hold at least 14 dual nationals and Iranians with permanent residence overseas on spurious charges.
Discrimination against Iranian women is widespread and pervasive, and on that front I would just highlight that child marriage is widespread in Iran. According to the former Iran special rapporteur, “at present, girls can be married as young as nine with the permission of the court. The United Nations Children Fund...reported...approximately 40,000 children under the age of 15 years are married annually and that approximately 17 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18.”
I would be remiss in discussing Iran's domestic repression without talking about the Iranian regime's brutality in Syria, where their support for Bashar al-Assad has resulted in more than half a million deaths and created millions of refugees who have fled to Europe and neighbouring states. The regime reportedly spends about $15 billion a year to support its long-time partner in Damascus, including with arms. It has financed foreign militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah. It provides between $700 million and $800 million to Hezbollah, which has provided the shock troops for the regime in Syria and contributed to the slaughter, and there are billions of dollars of credit and oil that it has supplied.
Let me return to some policy recommendations. I've detailed six policy recommendations in my testimony. Let me just summarize the first two.
The first is that pursuant to the Special Economic Measures Act, SEMA, the Canadian government should designate the IRGC in its entirety for its human rights violations in Iran and Syria, and impose human rights sanctions on Iranian state organs that facilitate the regime's human rights violations at home.
Last year, SEMA was amended to include an explicit new criterion that would enable sanctions against foreign actors that commit gross and systematic human rights violations. I would urge the Canadian government to designate the IRGC on that basis.
I would also urge the Canadian government to sanction under SEMA the business empire of Ali Khameini, the supreme leader, who is also the architect of Iran's oppression. This $200-billion corporate conglomerate controlled by the supreme leader consists of major companies and foundations, and it's also built on the backs of illegal expropriation of Iranian private property.
In addition, the Canadian government should use the new Magnitsky act, which allows the Governor in Council to take restrictive measures against foreign nationals responsible for gross human rights violations as well as corruption. This legislation gives the Canadian government the ability to sanction Iranian individuals and entities for gross human rights violations and corruption.
I will end there. There are other recommendations in my testimony, including listing the IRGC as a terrorist entity under the Canadian Criminal Code, as well as recognizing the clear nexus between the Iranian regime's human rights abuses and its other instruments of state repression.
Finally, Iran should maintain its listing under Canadian law as a state sponsor of terrorism under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. This is the leading state sponsor of terrorism and has been recognized by numerous U.S. administrations, including those of Barack Obama and Donald Trump.