Mr. Chair, it is truly an honour to stand in this hallowed chamber to speak of human rights this evening. I know that many Canadians, and all my colleagues who are here this evening, share my concern about the ongoing and systemic measures taken by the Iranian regime to suppress political freedoms.
I would like to dedicate my remarks this evening to those of Iranian background in Canada, as well as those in Iran who suffer under the oppression of that regime and who feel, when the Iranian regime is condemned by human rights advocates around the world, a slight tinge in their own conscience.
I am so proud of our Prime Minister and our Minister of Foreign Affairs who, in every breath of condemnation of Ahmadinejad and that regime, always add that they stand for those of Iranian background who believe in our freedoms and our democracy in Canada.
We all remember the chaotic scenes from the streets of Tehran following the last presidential elections in July 2009. We bore witness to history as Iranian citizens took to the streets in large numbers to dispute the results of those elections. Many were convinced that they would be able to exercise their political rights and elect a candidate of their choice.
What started as a movement that could have defined post-revolutionary Iran quickly faded. The dreams and aspirations of thousands were crushed as the state's military and security apparatus violently suppressed the demonstrations. Along with the deployment of state forces came arbitrary arrests, allegations of rape, torture and deaths. There was no accountability.
What had been a chance to define a post-revolutionary Iran for all the right reasons now defines Iran for all the wrong reasons. It painful to watch news programs broadcast around the world the blatant and arrogant manner in which the regime crushed dissent.
We all remember too vividly the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot and killed in broad daylight when attending a protest. The death of Neda symbolizes what thousands of people who lost their lives in the post-1979 revolution by the Republic of Iran for just wanting the basic rights that people in Canada enjoyed. She and others like her became symbols of the dreams and aspirations of millions of Iranian citizens, especially the youth who long for the same rights and freedoms that our youth in Canada enjoy.
There are many organizations in Canada that stand for promoting human rights and for promoting Persian culture in Canada, like the Iranian-Canadian Congress, led by Davoud Ghavami, and the Canadian Iranian Foundation, led by Nassreen Filsoof, both of whom are very active in the North Shore of Vancouver.
One organization in Canada that promotes human rights and justice for all and that uses art to express its message is the Neda for Freedom Society, of which my constituent and friend Mehrdad Rahbar is a proud member.
It is with regret that almost three years after those events the state of political freedoms in Iran remains dire. The leaders of the Green Movement remain confined in their homes, under home arrest. They are prohibited from organizing political parties and from participating in any meaningful expression of their political rights.
It has become apparent that Iran's ruling elite have made a conscious and deliberate decision slowly to destroy institutions of democratic civil society and, with them, the foundations of democracy in that country. This decision and its implementation means that Iran's citizens will be denied the ability to chose their government, not just for now but if things continue in this way, for years to come.
If the recent parliamentary elections and by-elections are any indication of what we can expect, then indeed the outlook is grim. As demonstrated by the recent elections to the Iranian parliament, the choices for Iranians at the ballot box were limited. There were no reformists on the ballot. They all boycotted the recent elections, a courageous and bold decision. Iranian reformists chose to boycott elections rather than lend legitimacy to what they rightly knew was a sham exercise that only pretended to give Iranians political freedom and choice.
Should this trend continue, the presidential elections in Iran in 2013 will usher in another government that will not have a democratic mandate, and that is if there even is an election in 2013, which is not entirely certain at the moment.
Let us take a look at how the Iranian regime has quelled dissent and destroyed the democratic process.
In addition to jailing leaders of pro-democracy movements or putting them under house arrest, Iran has used a long-proven tool of dictatorial states, which is censorship. While the rest of the world finds ways to connect with one another to share ideas, spearhead innovation and forge people-to-people ties, Iran's government has taken steps to curb the ability of its people to use the Internet, watch or listen to international news and maintain censorship of the domestic press corps.
It also limits the ability of foreign journalists to operate freely. In its press freedom index for the year 2011-12, Reporters Without Borders noted that Iran ranked 175th in the world. That means that only four other countries had worse records when it came to media freedom.
The organization has also documented numerous cases where journalists have been arrested and sentenced to lashings for their writings or political cartoons. It also noted that the Iranian regime pressures the families of these journalists. That is deplorable. It means that Iran is systematically eliminating any line of thought that it does not agree with. Never mind curbing descent, it views the role of the media and reporters as only to reinforce its own point of view and narrow political ideology.
Its record is no better when it comes to Internet freedom. It continues to take steps, just as it did following the 2009 presidential elections, to curb Internet freedom, which is a key component in exercising political freedom in the 21st century. Users find it next to impossible to access social networking sites, which in other place prove to be crucial in spreading pro-democracy views, exchanging ideas on governance and discussions on human rights. Not only are Iranians denied the opportunity to connect with one another, they are being increasingly denied the opportunity to connect with the outside world. Not a month passes by when there is not a media report suggesting that Iran's government is seeking ways to filter Internet content and to manage the flow of information in and out of Iran. While other countries are enriched by the people-to-people connections, Iranians are denied this opportunity.
Our government has taken every opportunity to call out the Iranian regime and to urge it to respect its obligations to allow political freedoms. As many members know, Canada has championed the cause of human rights in Iran for many years. This has been evident through our leadership in working with allies to sponsor an annual resolution on the issue of human rights in Iran at the UN General Assembly.
Last fall, we led on this initiative for the ninth consecutive year and the resolution was adopted with the most support ever. This resolution focuses world attention on the human rights situation in Iran and urges the Iranian regime to respect its domestic and international human rights obligations. The resolution sends a clear message to the people of Iran, to those who are fighting to exercise their political rights, that Canada, and indeed the world, stands with them.
Canada has also acted in concert with our international allies in imposing some of the toughest sanctions in the world on the Iranian regime. We will continue to work with the international community to advocate the rights of Iran's people as they struggle to achieve the same rights and freedoms that we as Canadians enjoy.
[Member spoke in Farsi]
In English that means “Let's support freedom and human rights in Iran”.