Mr. Chair, in the first part of my remarks this evening, I mentioned that this take note debate was as urgent as it is necessary and that we meet at an important moment in a massive domestic repression in Iran. I believe the submissions by my colleagues on all sides of the House are testimony to the importance if not urgency of this debate.
We meet, as I said earlier, on the fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of the Baha'i leadership, a case study of Iranian injustice in the criminalization of innocence and the targeting of Iran's largest religious minority in its pattern of persistent and pervasive human rights violations: its trumped-up charges, fabricated evidence, coercive interrogation, torture in detention, denial of counsel, indeed denial of any due process rights, as the member forKitchener Centre himself eloquently spoke of, the intimidation and arrest of the lawyers themselves, if they were even allowed such counsel, the harassment and intimidation of their children, the demonization of the community as a whole and the ongoing incitement to hatred and contempt for this targeted minority. The whole, I might add, and there is more than one could say, is constituted of crimes against humanity of the Baha'i-targeted minority.
We meet also on the occasion of the imprisonment of an iconic 80-year-old and now ailing Iranian political leader. I am referring to Ebrahim Yazdi, a leader of the freedom movement party, one of its early founders and a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister, a person who once was a colleague of the Ayatollah Khomeini until he himself broke with him and established this freedom movement. He became, as I say, an iconic opposition political leader until he, too, has now been sentenced to nine years of imprisonment at a time that he is suffering from cancer, heart ailments and the like. This not only being a denial of any expression or political rights of association but a brutal assault in the form of imprisonment and confinement at this point.
Yazdi's conviction was for “establishing and leading the freedom movement party” for the catch-all crime of propaganda against the regime and for exercising political rights, a freedom of association and expression protected both under international covenants to which Iran is a state party, let alone as well under Iranian law. The entire leadership of this party has now been imprisoned or is out on bail awaiting sentencing.
Who was Ebrahim Yazdi's lawyer? It was none other than the lawyer, as mentioned by my colleague from Kitchener Centre, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, who has been charged with “membership in an organization”. What is that organization? It is Iran's Centre for Human Rights Defenders, who has now himself been sentenced to nine years in prison for the “crime of defending the rights of others”, be they Ebrahim Yazdi and, yes, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani himself who is now as well facing a death sentence for alleged apostasy from Islam.
Just today we learned that four gay men in Iran are due to be executed for sodomy under Iran's Sharia laws.
In the last several months, both in the run up to the recent parliamentary elections and in the immediate aftermath of those elections, we have seen the quarantine of opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers of civil society leadership, as well as the lawyers who would defend them. The imprisonment of Abdolfattah Soltani came after he publicly called for a recount of Iran's presidential election, just as the lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah has been imprisoned similarly for exercising rights of, as I said, association and expression.
Moreover, since the 2009 green revolution movement, the massive repression has included the systematic targeting of cyber dissidents, some of them with a Canadian connection in that regard.
For example, the Canadian resident and Iranian citizen, Saeed Malekpour, a 36-year-old web designer, was arrested on trumped-up charges relating to the posting of pornographic material on the Internet, was tortured in detention, was forced to make a false televised confession, was sentenced to death and is now under imminent threat of execution. According to Malekpour's family, the death sentence was at the urging of the Iranian revolutionary guard corps, which the Iranian Human Rights Documentation Center at Yale University has noted is responsible for the murder of Iranian dissidents both inside and outside Iran.
Similarly, Vahid Asghari, a blogger who hosted websites critical of the government, was sentenced to death on January 6, 2012 after conviction of, here we have it again that catch-all crime, “corruption on the earth” for allegedly organizing a pornographic network against Islam and the state. In October 2009, he said in a letter to a judge that he had been subjected to torture, was also forced to make a televised confession and forced to make spying allegations against another high profile blogger, Canadian citizen Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, who had been serving a sentence of 19 and a half years for his role in helping Iranian dissidents create blogs but is now himself under imminent threat of execution.
I want to commend the government for the stands and positions it has taken in respect of both Mr. Malekpour and Mr. Hamid Ghassemi-Shall.
Nor has the conventional media been spared from Iran's state sanctioned assault on human rights. Indeed, Iran has already imprisoned more journalists than any other country in the world.
This past several months have also witnessed a massive assault on filmmakers, artists and the leadership of major independent Iranian organizations. This has included the shutting down of the Iranian House of Cinema, the country's leading independent film association with over 5,000 members. The body is also behind this year's Oscar-winning foreign film A Separation. The arrests have also included celebrated filmmaker Jafar Panahi and BBC filmmakers and the house arrest of, as we know, opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Many civil society organizations have been shut down. It would take me the rest of my time to list them, but suffice it to say that they are leading human rights organizations, trade union organizations, women's organizations and the like.
Numerous leaders in the women's movement and women journalists have been deliberately targeted, arrested, persecuted and even executed while others continue to disappear or to be threatened with execution. This includes, for example, the prominent Iranian filmmaker and women's rights activist Mahnaz Mohammadi, who directed the acclaimed documentary Women Without Shadows, who has been arrested by the intelligence services of the IRGC for “unknown reasons”.
Other members have been mentioned this evening but I will mention only one and that is Nasrin Sotoudeh, a celebrated defence attorney for activists and political detainees, who was herself charged with, yet again that catch-all phrase, “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the regime”, was sentenced to 11 years in prison but was later reduced to six years after an international protest and multiple hunger strikes. However, she is a case study of the assaults on lawyers who would represent political prisoners and who would assert the rights of their clients in this regard.
Moreover, Iran has sought to limit Internet access and restrict the content that can be posted online. A new Iranian cyberarmy has been formed and, as the latest Amnesty International report explains, this force has blocked websites while initiating attacks on servers, including those of Twitter and the Voice of America, again to quiet all forms of expression.
And so, the question is: What can and must we do?
Simply put, we must expose, unmask and hold Iran accountable for its massive domestic repression. This has prompted the establishment of an Interparliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran, an international consortium of parliamentarians from all over the world, that I co-chair with U.S. senator Mark Kirk. Our group has initiated now an Iranian political prisoner advocacy project that will invite members of Parliament to take up the cases of these political prisoners.
Again we must call for the unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners, those detained for doing nothing other than exercising their rights under Iranian law and international law. We need to support the work of the international UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and continue to hold Iran accountable for its violation of international resolutions, as well as the one sponsored by Canada.
Moreover, and I will close on this, all states can and should redouble their efforts to support dissidents in Iran and stand in solidarity with them. This is not a time to abandon the people of Iran, who are themselves the targets and victims of the Iranian regime's massive assault on human rights. We must champion their case and cause, let them know that the world is watching, that they are not alone and that we will not only stand in solidarity with them but work and advocate on their behalf.