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Irwin Cotler, MP

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Iran Accountability Week – Defending Human Rights Prisoners of Tehran

Posted on May 11, 2015 | No Comments

(As published in The Jerusalem Post)

Canadian parliamentarians from across the political spectrum joined together to launch the fourth annual Iran Accountability Week in order to sound the alarm on the toxic convergence of threats posed by the Iranian regime: the nuclear threat, terrorism, incitement to hatred, and particularly the widespread and systematic violation of human rights.

Our program this year included hearings of the House of Commons’ Subcommittee on International Human Rights, a public forum on Parliament Hill, press briefings, political prisoner advocacy, and a concluding call to action. Among the participants were Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran; Iranian-Canadian journalist, filmmaker and former political prisoner Maziar Bahari; Marina Nemat and Shakib Nasrullah, both former prisoners of conscience at Iran’s notorious Evin Prison; FDD leaders Mark Dubowitz and Ali Alfoneh and Freedom House President Mark Lagon.

This year’s Iran Accountability Week occurred at a most propitious time, as the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran have overshadowed – if not sanitized – the Iranian regime’s massive domestic repression.

Indeed, in the shadow of the nuclear negotiations, Iran has been engaged in a horrific execution binge. For example, 43 people were executed in a three-day period in April alone. Moreover, the persecution and prosecution of the Baha’i religious minority have intensified; the criminalization of dissent continues unabated, mocking the recent World Press Freedom Day; and some 900 political prisoners continue to languish in Iranian prisons, many subject to torture and under threat of execution.

Accordingly, a centerpiece of Iran Accountability Week was the Global Iranian Political Prisoner Advocacy Project, whereby MPs and Senators “adopt” political prisoners and engage in sustained public advocacy on their behalf.

This year, I continued my advocacy on behalf of the seven imprisoned leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community – known as the “Yaran” – and I have also taken up the case and cause of Ayatollah Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi, an imprisoned senior Shi’ite cleric and long-time advocate for religious freedom in Iran. These prisoners are all representative of the criminalization of religious and ethnic minorities in Iran, and their cases are case studies of Iranian injustice generally speaking.

The Baha’i leaders – Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezai, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm – were all sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in 2008, a virtual death sentence for some given their advanced age. Their conviction and sentence were based on such trumped-up charges as “propaganda against the system,” reminiscent of the old Soviet tactic of “give us the people and we will find the crime.” Indeed, the Iranian regime has made the very membership in and practice of the Baha’i religion a crime in itself.

In effect, the persecution and prosecution of the Yaran is in standing violation of both Iranian law and international treaties to which Iran is a State Party. These violations include: arbitrary, illegal and prolonged detention; torture and ill-treatment; false charges such as “spreading corruption on earth” (a capital crime); denial of the right to an effective trial; and hearings devoid of any semblance of due process before a politicized judiciary.

Like the Yaran, Ayatollah Boroujerdi is languishing in prison for crimes of conscience, including advocating for religious freedom. He is now in the ninth year of an 11-year prison sentence and is being denied urgent medical care, which is a form of passive execution.

He has advocated for religious freedom, leading benediction ceremonies in the presence of Shi’ites and Sunnis, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and the Baha’i. He has advocated for adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, calling for the abolition of capital punishment and for an end to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment such as torture, stoning and whipping.

And he has advocated for the separation of religion and state and for the cause of universal justice, condemning the abuse of radical and theocratic rule and terror while establishing social welfare centers for helping the poor and disadvantaged.

Yet the price of his advocacy has been his own cruel and inhumane treatment during his imprisonment and solitary confinement, and more recently, threats of execution.

The Global Iranian Political Prisoner Advocacy Project seeks to make the case and cause of Iranian political prisoners and prisoners of conscience like the Yaran and Ayatollah Boroujerdi the case and cause of us all.

Canadian MPs and Senators – and the Canadians we represent – stand in solidarity with Iranian political prisoners to let them know that they are not alone and that we will not relent until their freedom is secured.

The government of Iran seeks nuclear weapons, sponsors terrorism, spews hateful rhetoric and tramples the human rights of its own people. For the remarkable and courageous individuals who dare to challenge the regime, telling their stories is the very least we can do.

The author is a Canadian member of parliament, former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, and emeritus professor of law at McGill University. He co-chairs the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran and the Global Iranian Political Prisoner Advocacy Project.

Statement on Victory in Europe Day

Posted on May 8, 2015 | No Comments

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, today is the 70th anniversary of VE Day, a special and poignant moment of remembrance and reminder, of celebration and tribute, which we marked in a ceremony of remembrance at the cenotaph in my riding in Côte Saint-Luc. We remembered those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live in freedom and peace.

We were reminded of the values that they sought to protect and preserve, and that underpin our freedom and democracy today. I recalled the words of my father on my fifth birthday that VE Day. As he put it, the VE Day marked the end of two wars: the Nazi war against the allies and the Nazi war against the Jews.

We celebrated Canada’s role in the liberation of the Netherlands in the presence of the Dutch Consul General, and we paid tribute to the veterans among us.

My riding is privileged to have one of the largest percentage of veterans in the country, and when they returned from the horrors of the war, they rebuilt their lives as they rebuilt our communities. Indeed, my riding, like so many across Canada, is full of facilities and institutions built by veterans.

Thanks to them, we can look to the future with hope. May the values that inspired them inspire us all.

COTLER RENEWS CALL FOR BADAWI’S RELEASE ON ANNIVERSARY OF SAUDI BLOGGER’S SENTENCE

Posted on May 7, 2015 | No Comments

MP Irwin Cotler, Liberal Critic for Rights and Freedoms and International Justice and international counsel to blogger and political prisoner Raif Badawi, today issued the following statement, one year after Raif was sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes by Saudi Arabia:

“The unjust detention and cruel treatment of Raif Badawi constitute a standing violation of international law, and a frontal assault on the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech. Less than a week since World Press Freedom Day, on which we recognize the courage of those who persist in the exercise of their freedom of journalistic expression despite intimidation and violence, the anniversary of Raif’s sentence is particularly poignant. Indeed, Raif has recently received PEN Canada’s One Humanity Award and Deutsche Welle’s first-ever Freedom of Speech Award.

It has been encouraging to witness the galvanization of people around the world in support of Raif’s case and cause. Indeed, over the last few months in Parliament, I have tabled petitions signed by many Canadians calling on the government of Canada to use all necessary diplomatic means to secure Raif’s release and reunification with his family in Quebec.

It is encouraging as well that the House of Commons has passed a unanimous motion denouncing Raif’s reprehensible treatment and demanding his immediate release.

Yet, until Raif is free, we must continue to call on the Canadian government to make direct and urgent appeals to Saudi Arabia on Raif’s behalf. Canada must be unambiguous in demanding not mere clemency, but outright release and exoneration for Raif and for his lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, without condition and without delay.”

Statement on the Liberal Plan for Fairness

Posted on May 7, 2015 | No Comments

MP Irwin Cotler, Liberal Critic for Rights and Freedoms and International Justice, today issued the following statement about the Liberal Plan for Fairness: “As a former […]

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Debate on Bill C-51 (Anti-terrorism Act, 2015)

Posted on May 5, 2015 | No Comments

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have two questions for my colleague. I want to commend her for remarks. The member made reference […]

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Iran Accountability Week – Take-note Debate on Human Rights in Iran

Posted on May 5, 2015 | No Comments

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.): Mr. Chair, I am delighted to join in this take note debate on the situation in Iran. I want to […]

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Iran Accountability Week – Naming Tehran’s victims

Posted on May 5, 2015 | No Comments

(As published in the National Post) Canadian parliamentarians from across the political spectrum have joined together to launch the fourth annual Iran Accountability Week in order […]

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Debate on Bill C-51 (Anti-Terrorism Act 2015)

Posted on May 4, 2015 | No Comments

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I rise to address Bill C-51 and will begin by setting forth the credo that has underpinned my […]

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Question Period: Abuse of Afghan Detainees

Posted on May 4, 2015 | No Comments

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we learned this morning that two complaints were apparently filed in December 2010 and January 2011. Two Canadian […]

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Launch of Iran Accountability Week

Posted on May 1, 2015 | No Comments

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, yesterday, an all-party parliamentary group launched the fourth annual Iran Accountability Week at a most propitious time, as […]

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