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MPs Mark Anniversary of Mandela’s Passing with Call to Free Political Prisoners

Posted on December 4, 2014

Justice Minister Peter Mackay, former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler join fellow Parliamentarians to highlight cases of imprisoned dissidents in Venezuela, Mauritania, and Iran

Ottawa December 4, 2014 – Justice Minister Peter MacKay joined MPs Irwin Cotler (Liberal), Scott Reid (Conservative), Tyrone Benskin (NDP), and Elizabeth May (Green) to mark the first anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s passing by calling for the release of three political prisoners inspired by Mandela’s courage and commitment .

Irwin Cotler, who acted as counsel to Mandela, has taken up the cases of the three political prisoners at the request of their families and representatives. Said Cotler, “Nelson Mandela was a heroic role model, and the impact of his release after years of political imprisonment demonstrates the potential transformative effect of freeing political prisoners. Each of these three prisoners embodies the Mandela ethos, and is a heroic role model in his own right.”

Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo López is the founder and leader of the opposition party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), and has been imprisoned since February for his role in pro-democracy protests. His wife, activist Lilian Tintori, together with his international counsel Jared Genser, was in Ottawa last week and secured the support of all parties, including Foreign Minister John Baird. The Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Human Rights unanimously adopted a resolution (below) condemning his imprisonment and calling for his release.

Mauritanian political prisoner Biram Dah Abeid was arrested for his anti-slavery advocacy in a country which has the largest percentage of enslaved people in the world. At the time of his arrest, he was participating in the Caravan of Liberty, an initiative of IRA-Mauritania (Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement) of which he is President.

Iranian political prisoner Ayatollah Hossein Kazamani Boroujerdi is a senior cleric and long-time advocate for the separation of religion and state in Iran. He has been imprisoned since 2006 on a series of trumped-up charges, has been threatened with execution, and is being denied urgent medical care as a form of passive execution.

Said May, “On this anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela, I am indebted to my friend Irwin Cotler for raising the peril in which the ‘Mandelas’ of today find themselves – jailed and persecuted in their pursuit of human rights.”

Motion passed on Thursday, November 27, 2014 at Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Human Rights

Whereas: The Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development of the House of Commons of Canada has heard compelling and timely testimony from Lilian Tintori, wife of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, and their international legal counsel, Jared Genser;

Mr. López has been detained since February 18, 2014, after allegedly being charged with using “subliminal messages” to inspire people to engage in violence, though the Venezuelan government acknowledged, in its indictment of Mr. López, that he repeatedly and publically called for peaceful, non-violent action to secure change;

Mr. López’s detention and imprisonment have resulted from his exercise of rights and freedoms guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – including his right to freedom of expression; his right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and his right to take part in public affairs and be elected without unreasonable restriction;

Mr. López’s trial and detention are in standing violation of international norms respecting the right to a fair trial including, the presumption of innocence; the right to present witness testimony and documentary evidence; the right to have confidential attorney-client communications; the right to an independent and impartial judiciary; and the right to protection against torture and all forms of cruel and unusual punishment;

During the past nine months of his detention, Mr. López has spent five and a half months in complete isolation with no access to his family, where extended solitary confinement constitutes torture under the Convention Against Torture to which Venezuela is a Party;

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has determined that Mr. López’s arrest and detention are arbitrary, illegal and contrary to international law;

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Secretary General for the Organization of American States, US President Barack Obama, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards have all called for Mr. López’s immediate release from prison;

Since peaceful and mass protests began in Venezuela in January 2014, more than 3,400 Venezuelans were arrested, hundreds are facing charges, there are more than 70 political prisoners in the country, and 42 people were killed with impunity after engaging in non-violent protests;

Be it resolved that the Subcommittee:

  • Condemns the arbitrary and illegal detention and imprisonment of Mr. López and the violations of his fundamental freedoms and rights to a fair trial as guaranteed under international law and the Venezuelan constitution;
  • Condemns the suppression of peaceful protests and the mass arrests and detentions of political prisoners;
  • Calls for the release of Leopoldo López, Daniel Ceballos, and all political prisoners in the country;
  • Calls on the Venezuelan government to abide by the decisions of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calling for Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos’s immediate release;
  • Calls on the Venezuelan government to respect its treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Venezuela is a Party;
  • Calls on the Venezuelan government to respect its treaty obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment, to which Venezuela is a Party.

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