Mr. Chair, this truly is a sad kind of debate to have, and it gets particularly sad the more partisan we become. I think every member in this House needs to remember that there are Canadians of Iranian descent and otherwise whose loved ones and friends remain in Iran and are suffering. Their grief for those loved ones and friends cannot be underestimated, nor should it be turned for any particular partisan purpose. Members of Parliament should stand together as one to represent our constituents and Canadians who suffer as a result of these conditions.
Hon. members have heard often about the egregious state of human rights in Iran and efforts on the part of Iranian authorities to oppress the Iranian people at every turn. I would like to draw the attention of the House tonight to the monumental failure of Iran's judicial system: the intimidation and imprisonment of lawyers, the rampant abuse of due process rights and the frequent imposition of the death penalty, even on minors and sometimes for crimes as vaguely described as “enmity against God”.
It is worth highlighting that Iran's constitution provides for the judiciary to be an independent power. In practice, however, the court system is subject to ideological influence, corruption and continued subordination to political leaders and security agencies.
The Islamic Republic of Iran continues to administer harsh treatment to the Iranian people itself without proper due process. This long-established trend has become even more entrenched since the 2009 presidential elections, which were accompanied by a surge in popular dissent.
More than ever, Iran is transforming all institutions, including the judiciary, into tools for political persecution and abuse of human rights. The most basic expression of a citizen's rights, the right to a lawyer, the Iranian regime sees as potentially threatening to the Islamic Republic, despite the fact that its laws guarantee representation by legal counsel. The recent sentencing of Iranian lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah to nine years in prison is a good example of a case in which both lawyers and defendants are punished. Mr. Dadkhah is believed to have been targeted because of his efforts to defend political and human rights activists in Iran, including pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death in 2010 for apostasy.
Due process rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party, are routinely and grossly violated, reducing the likelihood of fair trials. Despite their codfication in the Iranian constitution, a defendant's right to a public trial, to a presumption of innocence and to an appeal have not been respected.
Judges can choose to exclude defence lawyers from court proceedings or even to imprison them, as I previously mentioned. Defendants can be found guilty on the basis of “the knowledge of the judge”, a provision in Iranian law that allows judges to make their own subjective and arbitrary determination as to whether or not an accused person is guilty, even in the absence of any conclusive evidence. It is unbelievable from a Canadian perspective.
Arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders, opposition members and ordinary Iranians is commonplace. Reformers, opposition activists who are mere demonstrators, have been targeted since 2009 and even more so in the wake of the Arab Spring. Ridiculous crimes such as enmity against god, anti-revolutionary behaviour, moral corruption and even siding with global arrogance are met with absolutely draconian punishment.
Following protests in response to the fraudulent 2009 Iranian presidential election, prominent pro-reform activists, lawyers, journalists and politicians were not only imprisoned but also subjected to televised show trials in which they were coerced into making confessions.
Torture by security forces and prison personnel is terribly pervasive. Beatings, threats of execution, sleep deprivation, even rape of prisoners and detainees are widespread. Judicially sanctioned corporal punishment is often cruel and unusual, and even includes amputations and lashings and stonings as a method of execution. Iranian practices with regard to capital and corporal punishment have attracted widespread condemnation from international human rights bodies and organizations.
While Iran acknowledged 421 executions in 2011, observers in Iran counted more than 650 executions based on publicly available information. Official statistics vastly understate the number of executions actually carried out, and they reportedly omit mass executions of prisoners who are in Iranian institutions.
Public executions continue using the cruel and inhumane method of suspension strangulation whereby individuals are suspended by the neck for 20 minutes to 30 minutes until they slowly die of asphyxiation. That is simply intolerable.
A revised Iranian penal code, due to take effect later this year, does remove the stoning penalty, and the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran has encouraged the government to explicitly restrict the use of this punishment and to commute existing sentences of execution by stoning. That revised penal code also abolishes the execution of juvenile offenders and offers alternative penalties to incarceration at the judge's discretion. These changes of course are very welcome, but it remains to be seen whether and how the new law will be applied in practice and whether existing sentences will be commuted in the spirit of this new law. Forgive us if we are less than convinced that real action and real reforms will actually take place.
The Government of Canada has been unequivocal in its position that Iran's human rights abuses in their various forms are completely unacceptable. Authorities must take immediate and effective measures to ensure judicial independence and due process are afforded to each and every Iranian citizen. As part of its ongoing efforts to promote respect for human rights in Iran, for the ninth year Canada led the resolution on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran at the fall 2011 session of the United Nations General Assembly. We have imposed some of the toughest sanctions in the world. We continue to work bilaterally and multilaterally with allies in like-minded countries to ensure that Iran's human rights record does not go ignored.
Rather than seeing improvements, the Iranian authorities seem to be further refining their system of oppression and control, including a submissive judiciary machine quick to crush any sign of citizen dissent and free expression. Canada will continue to stand with the Iranian people and urge Iranian authorities to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and the legitimate rights of the Iranian people.