Irwin Cotler, MPs call for sanctions against Iranian officials

Exiled Iranian women’s rights activist Shaparak Shajarizadeh, centre, speaks about the repression taking place in her country, along with, from left, Liberal MP Alexandra Mendes, former justice minister Irwin Cotler, NDP MP Murray Rankin and Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld, at a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 10.

The Canadian government is being urged to impose sanctions on 19 Iranians who are singled out as “the principal architects of massive repression” within their country.

The call was made by Irwin Cotler, head of the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR), who was joined by parliamentarians from the major political parties at a press conference on Parliament Hill on Dec. 10.

They released a report that describes the rapidly worsening crackdown by the Iranian regime on “civil society leaders and human rights defenders,” who are subjected to arbitrary arrest, torture and sometimes execution, as well the brutal suppression of even peaceful protests.

The report makes the case for invoking the so-called Magnitsky law against the 19 high-ranking individuals, including government ministers, judges, prosecutors and heads of prisons.

The list includes Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, prosecutor-general of Tehran, who is said to have unjustly prosecuted two environmentalists with Canadian connections: Kavous Seyed-Emami, a Canadian citizen who died under suspicious circumstances in the notorious Evin Prison in February and McGill University graduate Niloufar Bayani, who’s been held on a charge of espionage for the past 10 months.

Others on the list include Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi, who is alleged to be responsible for orchestrating the harassment and assassination of Iranians abroad, and last year claimed the regime had agents in Canada. Another is Mohammad Moghiseh of Iran’s Revolutionary Court, who imprisoned lawyer and women’s rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, the recipient of an honorary doctorate from York University.


The RWCHR, along with the group of parliamentarians, is also demanding that those responsible for the murder of at least 5,000 dissidents 30 years ago finally be brought to justice. Cotler said they include the present minister of justice, Seyed Alireza Avaei, as well as past ministers and current judges. The massacre was characterized by the Canadian Parliament as a crime against humanity at the time.

They also want the release of other Iranian-Canadians, including citizen journalist Saeed Malekpour, who’s been held for 11 years now, and Seyed-Emami’s widow, Maryam Mombeini, who is in detention.

The RWCHR continues to advocate for “political prisoners” with Canadian connections, including Sotoudeh and her husband Reza Khandan, physicist and women’s rights champion Narges Mohammadi and religious pluralism advocate Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi.

The report cites information gathered by Ahmed Shaheed – a RWCHR senior fellow who’s currently the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and previously served as the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran – as well as Rose Parris Richter, the executive director of the Human Rights in Iran Unit at the City University of New York.

The Magnitsky law is named for Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer and whistleblower who died in prison in 2009. Officially called the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, it was passed by Parliament last year, following similar laws in several other countries, including the United States.

If used, it would allow Canada to impose a visa ban on the 19 Iranians, freeze any assets they have in this country and prohibit Canadian businesses from dealing with them. Canada severed diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012.

Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi is one of 19 individuals that Irwin Cotler and a group of MPs have called for the Canadian government to impose sanctions on. (Mostafa Meraji/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Cotler said that, “It was the international community’s indifference and inaction re Saudi Arabia, which emboldened that country’s leadership and took us down the road to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

“Inaction regarding Iranian leaders engaged in multiple murders, torture and imprisonment is also emboldening the architects of repression who must be held to account.”

Last month, Parliament levied sanctions against 17 Saudi officials implicated in Khashoggi’s death, the same people the RWCHR wanted sanctioned.

Cotler, a former federal justice minister, said that the situation in Iran got markedly worse last summer.

Also participating in the press conference was Shaparak Shajarizadeh, who was arrested three times for her women’s rights activism in Iran. She has been in Montreal for the past three months and is seeking asylum, along with her husband and son.

She spoke the week earlier at Concordia University. Shajarizadeh, who described herself as a “normal housewife,” was arrested most recently in February for removing her headscarf in public and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but managed to flee the country while out on bail.

She said women in Iran are subjected to daily insults and even physical assaults. They are also subservient to their husbands or male relatives in almost every aspect of life, including whether they can get an education, work or get a divorce.

“When things get ugly, you are the one that gets punished, not the abuser,” she said.

“The morality police are on every corner. They are there to arrest women, not the rapists. The courts say it is your fault, it was the colour of your dress, your makeup, nail polish or high heels. You were seductive.”

The morality police are on every corner. They are there to arrest women, not the rapists.
– Shaparak Shajarizadeh

The situation has become ludicrous to the point that the size one’s hijab is scrutinized, to see if it is “proper,” she added.

Shajarizadeh, who was being represented by Sotoudeh before she was imprisoned, said she suffered beatings and “mental” torture when she was in custody.

“My choice was to go to jail again, or be silent in Iran. I hope to be the voice here for those left behind,” she said.