Mr. Chair, we have all watched the developments in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and other countries that are experiencing considerable political and social unrest. Citizens are demanding greater freedom and political accountability and there are signs in many cases that change is indeed coming.
In recent days, the people of Iran have taken to the streets of Tehran and other cities calling for change. Yet again we have seen from the Islamic Republic of Iran the brutal suppression of those who seek freedom of expression and political change. President Ahmadinejad's regime practises wanton disregard for human rights, the rule of law and international standards of behaviour.
Take, for example, the ongoing case of Saeed Malekpour, a permanent resident of Canada being held in the notorious Evin prison. He was forced through torture to make a false confession and is under constant threat of execution. This is but one instance of the total contempt the Iranian regime has for the rule of law domestically and internationally.
As a member of the foreign affairs Subcommittee on International Human Rights, my colleagues and I have had the opportunity to study and report on the realities of the Iranian human rights violations and the seemingly endless reprehensible conduct. It was made clear in its December 2010 report that the committee firmly believed the Iranian regime's policies and activities within its territory and those it projects internationally constituted gross violations of its obligations under international law.
The litany of oppression and irresponsible international behaviour literally grows by the day. In recent days we have received reports of the terrible oppression of legitimate and peaceful dissents in Iran. The utter hypocrisies of the Iranian regime is incomprehensible.
Human Rights Watch remarks:
Just days ago the Iranian government claimed to support the popular aspirations of millions of Tunisians and Egyptians who peacefully demanded an end to dictatorship...Now Iranian security forces are using batons and teargas to disperse Iranians peacefully demonstrating in support of their Arab neighbors.
The suppression of these peaceful demonstrations was accompanied by the detention of numerous opposition leaders across Iran.
This pattern of intolerable conduct is completely consistent with the regime's human rights records and its intolerable foreign policy objectives. Throughout testimony for the report on Iran, concerns about the policy of Iran's governing regime's on human rights related policies was expressed strongly. Particularly notable among these concerns was its support of various terrorist organizations, its incitement to genocide, its belligerent stance towards Israel, the dehumanization and the intentions of its nuclear program.
In various conflicts throughout the Middle Eastern region, and indeed around the world, the footprints of the Iranian regime are fully in evidence whether it is the support of terrorists or other violations of international law. Its endless contempt and outrageous attacks on Israel are completely unacceptable and must be condemned.
Within Iran itself, we have witnessed for some time now the personal price paid by those who oppose the regime or simply violate its reprehensible standards of intolerance.
As with Mr. Malekpour, these include Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi who died tragically in Iranian custody in 2003 for taking a photograph of a protest outside a prison. Her son, Stephan, put it eloquently by saying:
Through her art, she wanted to inform, connect with and educate people. She gave a voice to the people of those countries she focused on—she even gave them hope.
Victims Mahmoud Asgari and Ayez Marhoni were teenagers executed by the Iranian regime in 2005 because they were gay.
Just today it has been reported by Human Rights Watch that there has already been over 100 executions in 2011 by the Iranian regime, including political prisoners.
In testimony before the Subcommittee on International Human rights this week, Professor Payam Akhavan characterized it as “mass murder in slow motion”.
The Iranian Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi, appeared before our committee and said this morning that the Iranian regime:
—are using the familiar tactics of carrying out political execution at the same time as mass executions of prisoners convicted of criminal offences. These executions may increase if the world is silent.
Her words represent an appeal to all nations of the world, including Canada, to ensure that the Iranian regime hears the voice of the world community and understands that they will be held accountable for their actions.
We need that action, but one of the major challenges is the ability to collect information from a society that conducts itself as the Iranian regime does, that criminalizes freedom of expression. In order to get an accurate picture of what goes on in Iran, we must rely on activists and journalists for much of what we have come to know, but they need our support. Action is needed to add the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps to a list of terrorist entities and to amend the State Immunity Act.
One of the groups within Iran about which we have received regular reports is members of the Baha'i faith. Left unprotected by the Iranian legal system, the 300,000 members are singled out for particularly brutal persecution. Their homes are raided. They are publicly vilified and have no means of public recourse, creating what Suzanne Tamas of the Baha'i Community of Canada called “an atmosphere of prejudice, which allows the Iranian government to continue to persecute the Baha'is with impunity”.
People of the Jewish faith remaining in Iran are also targeted for oppression, as are other minority communities such as Christians and Sunni Muslims. Minorities like the Kurds and the Baluchis are always under constant threat from the Iranian regime, so much so that Fakteh Zamani, president of the Association for Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran said judges would simply show up and sentence tortured members of the Baluchis members to death, leading to hundreds of Baluchis on death row for no reason other than they are a minority.
Whether it is Iranians seeking political and social reform, religious minorities or foreigners who appear to threaten their regime, the Iranian government will spare no action in its quest to quench dissent. Indeed, following the marches in cities across Iran this past Monday, the regime has called upon its supporters to participate in protests this coming Friday to demonstrate what it is calling their “hatred” for those who participated in the rallies calling for change. The reformers are clearly in the sights of the Iranian regime once again.
Reformers cannot rely on instruments of the Iranian current political system for any change, as we have seen. The presidential elections of June 2009 were clearly conducted in a manner that was unfair and questionable, to say the least. The results clearly did not reflect the true will of the Iranian people and the regime's ruthless repression of resistance in the wake of the vote merely demonstrated its complete lack of legitimacy.
The Iranian regime represents one of the most pressing threats to stability in the world. The conduct of this regime domestically is reprehensible and intolerable. The public statements of the regime and its leadership as well as policy declarations are a serious threat to both Iranians and to all people of the region and beyond. Israel is a particular target of their vitriol.
While the challenge of dealing with the Iranian regime may at times appear daunting, the price of not taking substantial action will almost certainly be much higher, as history has taught us in such circumstances.
Our subcommittee's report to Parliament makes a number of recommendations that I hope will be adopted and implemented by the Government of Canada. I hope too that it will then stand as an example of the action that needs to be taken by other nations too.
Canada, in unison with nations across the global community, can make a difference. We must ensure that the voice of tolerance, responsibility and freedom is heard by the Iranian regime and, perhaps just as important, it will serve as inspiration to those who labour for freedom in that country.
Let us be an example of this principle in our dealings with the Iranian regime. Let us stand firm.