Statement by Minister Cannon on Iran to House of Commons

(No. 68 - February 17, 2011 - 3:40 p.m. ET) The following is an edited transcript of a statement made in the House of Commons by the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the situation in Iran. The statement was made in the House at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, February 16, 2011:

"Madam Speaker, a year and a half ago, an extraordinary, peaceful people’s movement took to the streets in Iran. This movement rejected the results of the election, which had obviously been rigged, and called for radical reforms. Millions of Iranians took to the streets in June and July 2009, braving suppression, intimidation, arrest and violence by the Iranian authorities currently in power.

"As we witnessed the wave of democracy surging through Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks, we were reminded that Iran had set an example of courage and hope for the Middle East. Canadians and the other members of the international community had promised never to forget the bravery of the Iranian activists.

"Where are the Green Movement leaders now? Unfortunately, while the events in Egypt and Tunisia sent out messages of hope, the events in Iran reveal an oppressive regime. The 2009 activists are now under house arrest; their telephone lines have been cut and security officers have been stationed outside their homes. These leaders were once the Iranian prime minister [Mir Hossein Mousavi, prime minister 1981-1989], the speaker of the Iranian parliament [Mehdi Karroubi, speaker 1989-1992 and 2000-2004] and the country's president [Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, president 1993-1997]. And now, the judiciary and members of the Iranian parliament are calling for their arrest and even their execution for having ‘corrupted the earth.'

"The flagrant disregard and egregious abuse of the most basic human rights by the Iranian authorities have always been and will continue to be denounced by our government and by the House. Actions taken by the Iranian authorities against peaceful protesters in Tehran as recently as this week give our government much cause for concern. The hypocrisy of the Iranian authorities' support for democracy in Egypt and the suppression of the same demands in Iran is outright unacceptable. The use of tear gas, batons and pepper spray against peaceful protesters by Iranian security forces is a gross violation of the right to free expression and assembly.

"Our government will continue to call on Iranian authorities to allow for peaceful gatherings and the immediate release of any protesters who are being unjustifiably detained, and we will continue to take Iran to task for its continued violations of human rights and freedom of expression and association.

"Unfortunately, these recent events have a long history. We will not forget that many of the young people arrested during the 2009 protest were taken to Iran's notorious Kahrizak prison, where they were brutally beaten and packed into small, unventilated cells by the dozens. At least three died from beatings or asphyxiation, while others were reportedly raped by their jailers. The Iranian parliament [the Majlis] itself investigated these incidents and found that there were indeed severe abuses, including by Saeed Mortazavi, the same man implicated in the murder of Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi in 2003. However, in spite of the Majlis's conclusions, the world is still waiting for those responsible for the crimes at this prison to be held accountable.

"The activists of the Green Movement have disappeared from Iranian society. Intellectuals, students, senior officials and clerics who joined the quest for freedom and reform are now either locked away or silenced forever. Many of them were forced to appear in humiliating televised show trials, where they confessed their so-called crimes, clearly under duress. Many have been given severe punishment after a highly questionable process by the Iranian courts.

"However, in such cases as these, the word "many” can detract from the individual tragedies and suffering involved. In particular, I would call to the attention of the House the stories of:

"Jafar Panahi, the gifted filmmaker honoured last September at the Toronto Film Festival, sentenced to six years in jail and banned from pursuing his craft for 20 years;

"Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a respected cleric and former deputy minister of culture [and vice president], was detained for 160 days;

"Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy minister, was detained for 10 months and then rearrested for stating that the 2009 elections were rigged;

"Ibrahim Yazdi, veteran political leader and activist, was arrested in June 2009 and again in October 2010. He is now in declining health in prison and his trial date is reportedly postponed.

"I could go on.

"The courageous Iranians who fought for democracy in 2009 are today facing serious consequences, including the death penalty.

"On January 29, [2011] an Iranian-Dutch woman named Zahra Bahrami was executed on the basis of questionable drug-related charges that were laid after her arrest during an anti-Ahmadinejad protest.

"On January 24, Jafar Kazemi and Mohammad Ali Haj Aghaei, who were arrested during the 2009 protests, were executed after being accused of having ties to a terrorist group.

"The Government of Canada is very concerned and believes that this trend will continue and that the Iranian judiciary will hand down death penalties in the cases of other people who gathered to peacefully demonstrate their democratic opposition. The government is also worried that the approximately 100 civilians arrested during the February 14 demonstrations will be subject to the same non-transparent, draconian treatment.

"Other activists arrested following the election in 2009 are now receiving harsh sentences, including corporal punishment, for their peaceful opposition activities and for vaguely defined offences that carry the death penalty. Here again are a few of the many who are suffering at the hands of a government that does not respect their basic democratic rights: Mehdi Aghdam, a youth activist, received six years in prison for participating in demonstrations; Emad Bahavar, a student activist, received 10 years in prison and a 10-year ban on participating in political activities; Amir Khorram, a youth activist, received seven years in prison and 74 lashes; Sarah Tavassoli, a youth activist, received six years in prison and 74 lashes; a construction worker with two young children, Behzad Arabgol, received six years in prison for participating in a demonstration; Shiva Nazar-Ahari, a women's rights activist, received four years in prison and 74 lashes.

"These terrible punishments of individuals exercising their universal rights of freedom of expression and assembly are an offence to reasonable people the world over, and they must stop.

"The Government of Canada condemned the repression after the June 2009 elections, and we have continued to condemn the systematic and violent suppression of peace demonstrations ever since. These ongoing and unjustifiable violations of universal human rights will remain a core issue in Canada's foreign policy regarding Iran.

"Our stand will not soften, our international leadership will not lessen and our principled voice will not be diminished until Iran's leaders turn away from the path of repression and all citizens of Iran can enjoy the freedoms and rights we hold to be universal and undeniable."

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