Mr. Chair, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the human rights situation in Iran. It is extremely important that all members of the House send a very clear message that in Canada we support the aspirations of the Iranian people when they seek freedom, peace, and democracy. Parliament spoke strongly at the time of the election when people were being murdered in the streets of Iran and Tehran.
On this side of the House—and I would presume members of the government and other parties would agree with this—we think that Canada, in the view of New Democrats, has a very significant role to play, as we have continuously done, to point out those times when Iran has said yes to acceptance of the periodic review by the United Nations but never implemented any of the changes that were requested. The previous speaker talked about the annual execution rate in Iran and it being around 750. It is still a country that executes juveniles. I am not sure of the number, but I think it was 18 last year. Juveniles are executed. How can a regime do that?
I was involved for 28 years in the Canadian labour movement, so I am kind of sensitive to the next quote that I am going to read. It comes from an Amnesty International update on Iran. A gentleman by the name of Mansour Osanloo is an activist with the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, which is probably a very interesting title over there. An amalgamated transit union is what it would be here. He stated:
The labor movement has a deep impact on the struggle for human rights and democracy in Iran, and as the labor movement grows, it benefits the struggle for democracy and freedom. This is based on the fact that the labor movement involves the largest and most important segment of the masses into this struggle. The movement of workers as the builders of society, will inevitably push that society towards democracy. Labor movements which occur in the most widespread form will force the government and society to respond and take action. The involvement of the working class appearance in the social and political realm has been shown to increase the level of democracy in every society. It is clear that the labor movement can promote the distribution equality of within a...society.
That, of course, is a very aspirational statement. We are blessed in Canada. I felt blessed in 1996 when I led the largest civil demonstration in the history of our country, in the Hamilton's Days of Action, when 105,000 people protested, without one injury or arrest. That says a lot for the democracy of this country. They were protesting the Conservative government of Mike Harris, by the way, but were still treated with the dignity and respect that the people so yearn for in Iran.
I will read another quote from the same report. It stated:
It was said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman. Today, it can be said that the Islamic republic is neither Islamic nor a republic. The Iran of today has become the Islamic republic of gangster capitalism, where an unholy alliance of the clerical establishment and the Revolutionary Guard Corps rule through economic patronage for the inner circle, together with torture at home and terrorism abroad.
This gentleman, Payam Akhavan, is a professor of international law at McGill University. He has spoken at the subcommittee on international human rights several times. He helps us with the update that we do to keep ourselves current on what is happening in Iran.
Along with the professor was Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer from Iran who for years spoke out publicly and risked her life. She received the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. Today, she has to live outside of Iran for her own safety. These two witnesses were before our committee about two to three years ago and both made the same comment, which I think is worthy of our consideration. It was that the remedy for Iran has to come from within Iran, that we cannot remedy its problems from outside.
Going back to the aspirational quote from that labour leader, in that country, that kind of statement can put one in jail and cause one to be tortured. Evin Prison is notorious for the political activists kept behind its walls and the torture and treatment that happens to them.
In Iran, women face persistent, systemic discrimination in terms of family law. The following is a statement from Amnesty International.
New legislation being considered by Iran’s parliament is intended to roll back many of the gains women have made in the past decades and consign them to being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.
And on top of that, if they dare to protest about the inequities they suffer, they are sentenced to long prison terms, to be served in prisons where unsanitary conditions and medical neglect can quickly undermine their health.
This is the fate of Bahareh Hedayat, an activist with The Campaign for Equality, a grassroots initiative, and a member of the Central Committee of the Office for the Consolidation of Unity, a national student body which has been active in calling for political reform and opposing human rights violations in recent years. She is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence in Evin Prison.
Evin Prison, as members here will know, is one of the worst prisons on the face of the earth.
She was charged with a number offences, and they sound beyond belief. One of her offences was “interviews with a foreign media”—imagine, it was just an interview—“insulting the leader”, “insulting the president,” and “disrupting public order through participating in illegal gatherings”. We have to pause when we live in a country like Canada.
I just spoke a moment ago about the fact that we had a massive demonstration here, and there were no objections, but in Iran, for that she wound up with a 10-year sentence in Evin Prison.
She has already served half of her sentence and she should therefore be eligible for parole under Iranian law, but concerned human rights activists need to urge the Iranian government to release her now so that she can receive medical attention for her health, which she is not receiving in Evin Prison.
The Amnesty report goes on to talk about the treatment of minorities. The previous speaker spoke about the Baha'i and how they are denied religious freedom. They are the largest non-Muslim religious minority the government consistently discriminates against. At least 136 Baha'i have been held in Iranian prisons as of May 2014. State authorities have desecrated Baha'i cemeteries, including one in Shiraz, where the authorities began excavating in April.
Security and intelligent forces have also continued to target Christian converts from Islam. Persian-speaking Protestants, evangelical congregations, and members of home church movements are all persecuted by this government. Many face charges, such as acting against national security and propaganda against the state.
Imagine that following a religious practice is somehow propaganda, and even worse, propaganda against the state. However, it is not just Christians and Baha'i. Sunni Muslims, which are 10% of the population in Iran, are not allowed to build their own mosques, simply because they have a different view than the Shia view of Islam.
As we review from time to time the status and the situation in Iran, sadly, at this juncture, we have to say that things have not gotten better. Iran had a new leader, and there was great hope that there would be change. That has been a false front. Again, I think the patronage and the corruption is offending any chance of heading to a real democracy in Iran.