In the run-up to the Iranian presidential election, Canadian parliamentarians
and their American counterparts have been focusing attention on the Tehran
government, sounding the alarm on massive domestic repression and the Iranian
nuclear and terrorist threat to international peace and security.
witness to state-sanctioned assaults that are tantamount to crimes against
humanity, including the highest per capita rate of executions in the world; the
imprisonment and silencing of more journalists and bloggers than any other
country; the persistent and pervasive assault on women’s rights; the targeting
of religious and ethnic minorities, particularly the Baha’i and the Kurds; the
criminalization of fundamental freedoms of speech, association and assembly; and
the imprisonment of opposition leaders, human rights defenders, and the lawyers
who would defend them.
As it happens, the Iranian election – fraught with
fraud and fear – is taking place against the backdrop of dark moments of
remembrance – the fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of the Baha’i leadership
in Iran, known as the Yaran; the 25th anniversary of the supreme leader’s
fatwa-ordered 1988 massacre of thousands of political dissidents; and the recent
report of 2,600 political prisoners in Iran. The regime has only been ramping up
its crackdown on dissent in advance of the presidential
Accordingly, we have launched the Iranian Political Prisoners
Global Advocacy Project, where parliamentarians “adopt” Iranian political
prisoners and advocate on their behalf. While the Iranian government seeks to
silence dissenters, we are determined to make their voices heard. Each victim of
repression must be recognized as a real person enduring mental and often
physical anguish in a society where human rights and democracy itself have been
To that end, each parliamentarian participating in this
project will endeavor to make known the story of his or her adopted prisoner as
part of the struggle to set them free.
We will be advocating on behalf of
Nasrin Sotoudeh, as well as the seven imprisoned leaders of the Iranian Baha’i
community. As a lawyer, Ms.
Sotoudeh represented political prisoners –
including women, lawyers, journalists and children sentenced to death – until,
while visiting one of her clients in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison in 2010, she
was arrested on trumped-up charges of “propaganda against the regime” and became
one of Evin’s inmates herself.
On May 30, this extraordinary woman – who
embodies the struggle for human rights in Iran and symbolizes the regime’s
massive domestic repression – spent her 50th birthday in one of the bleakest
places on earth. Her 11-year sentence has already been reduced to six as a
result of advocacy on her behalf, and that advocacy must continue.
Baha’i leaders – Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid
Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm – were arrested in
2008. At a trial that violated every international legal norm, they were
convicted of “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and
propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
This is a virtual death sentence for Mr.
Khanjani and others, given their
Baha’i institutions have been outlawed in Iran since 1983,
and the human rights of the Baha’i are systematically violated from cradle to
grave. They are barred from many jobs and are not allowed to attend university.
Hundreds have been imprisoned over the past decade, while the regime’s
state-sanctioned culture of hate has resulted in arson attacks, the desecration
of Baha’i cemeteries and assaults on school children.
We will also be
advocating on behalf of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born US citizen who
converted to Christianity as a teenager. During a visit to Iran last September
to see his family and build an orphanage in the city of Rasht, he was arrested
for undermining national security through Christian evangelical activities and
sentenced to eight years in prison. He has been denied medical treatment for
several serious health problems – including internal bleeding due to abuse in
Earlier this month, Abedini was placed in solitary confinement
for one week where he spent his 33rd birthday. While he was in what the American
Center for Law and Justice has called “a small, dark hole,” more than 50,000
birthday messages were sent to his prison. Pastor Saeed has a wife and two young
To secure the release of these and other human rights heroes,
Iranian political prisoners must become household names, and their cause must
become our cause.
The government of Iran sponsors terrorism, seeks
nuclear weapons, spews hateful rhetoric, and tramples the human rights of its
The regime is afraid of the power of its citizens, and has
created a culture of fear whereby everyone who speaks out is targeted. For the
remarkable and courageous individuals who dare to challenge the regime, telling
their stories is the very least we can do.
Canadian MP Irwin Cotler is
co-chairman with Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois of the Inter-Parliamentary Group for
Human Rights in Iran, and of the Iranian Political Prisoners Global Advocacy